Having a new trailer in your driveway means that every day gets you thinking about the next adventure!
After enduring a rather chilly and wet start to Spring, we decided that a trip to the beautiful town of Leavenworth, Washington was in order.
For all of you who have visited this unique place, there is no need to describe the authentically rendered Bavarian theme that permeates the entire town. For those unfamiliar, you are in for a bit of history and a window into how hope, tenacity, prejudice, and a singular vision turned a once poverty-stricken place into the thriving village that now boasts real estate prices that rival our own.
Schutte and the “Bachelors”
Leavenworth eventually crashed into desperate times after a relative boom in the late 1880s due to inflated interests surrounding logging and gold speculation. The Great Depression seemingly sealed the fate of this remote place. With its boarded-up businesses, abandoned cars, and trash lining the streets, by 1960, Leavenworth was an impoverished place.
The fate of Leavenworth began to change in 1960 when two “friends” from Seattle purchased the failing Squirrel Tree Café on Highway 2, 15 miles west of Leavenworth. Theodore H. “Ted” Price (b. 1923), a pharmaceutical representative, and Robert F. “Bob” Rodgers fell in love with the area after Bob, who had previously been stationed in Bavaria during WWII, saw the potential to revive Leavenworth into a once again vibrant town. (Arksey, 2010)
Price and Rogers soon became heavily involved with local politics and policies surrounding their vision to turn Leavenworth into a Bavarian theme town. At their urging, the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce contacted the Bureau of Community Development at the University of Washington (also referred to as the Office of Community and Organizational Development) (Arksey, 2010)
The University of Washington Bureau of Community Development provided the Chamber with a self-directed program designed to enable towns like Leavenworth with a strategy for redevelopment. The plan was eventually drafted and termed Project LIFE which stood for Leavenworth Improvement for Everyone. (Arksey, 2010)
From the onset, the fact that Price and Rogers were living “as bachelors” together was a problem for the old timers who suspected there was more to their story. As Ted Price stated in an interview for The Los Angeles Times:
“I remained troubled by the attempts of some individuals to tell the story of Leavenworth’s revitalization in fanciful ways. Essential elements of what happened were being left out of the official accounts, and people who had little or nothing to do with creating Bavarian Leavenworth were starting to be named as responsible … soon new facts about the revitalization were being invented to give recognition to a few old timers” (Price T. P., 1997, pg.100)
Carolyn Schutte was a wealthy Seattle resident who regularly brought friends to the Squirrel Tree Café. She eventually befriended Price and Rogers, and soon they were close friends. Upon seeing how close to a nervous breakdown Ted was from the stress of trying to convince the old guard of Leavenworth to change into a Bavarian theme town, Schutte took Price and Rogers on an all-expenses-paid vacation to Europe. On this trip, Schutte revealed that she had been secretly purchasing large swaths of the town to ensure that Price and Rogers’ idea to “Bavarianize” Leavenworth came to fruition. (Arksey, 2010)
Today, Leavenworth hosts a festival for every change of the season. These festivals include The Fall Leaf Festival, Oktoberfest, The Village Lighting Festival, The Bavarian Ice Fest, and Maifest. Plus, throughout the year are yodeling and accordion festivals, wine tastings, and just up the road at the Sleeping Lady Retreat Center, a world-class chamber music festival. (Arksey, 2010)
Changing a town’s history to enhance its ability to generate its economy comes with its issues. Today, where a derelict high school once stood is a state-of-the-art facility. Next door is an equally impressive elementary and middle school. While these improvements point to overall good for the valley, gone is the original history of the place, which includes the rich past of the Yakama, Chinook, and Wenatchi tribes, all of who fished and hunted in the valley. In many respects, the town’s original history is gone. It has been replaced with a Bavarian-driven mission to stay true to its theme of a re-invented tourist town. Reflecting the new population demographic in the valley, real estate prices rival those in Bellingham and Seattle. The recent pandemic allowing people to move to remote locations has made the presence of Seattleites even more apparent. We spoke with a local real estate agent while touring a 3.9-million-dollar lake house and asked who drives the market; she stated that 80% of the buyers are from Seattle.
In a 1997 Journal of the West article, a local resident stated, “Leavenworth has discarded its heritage and that children growing up in Leavenworth in the 1990s experience a hometown dedicated to service outside interests through tourism; the original landscape and history that made the community unique is ignored. The impact is accentuated by false storefronts, ignores local history, and is responsible for confusion among generations. Leavenworth exemplifies other middle-class recreational theme towns in the West. The city promotes a theme-park mindset that ignores the natural history, cultures, and landscape that define the region” (Sudderth, 1997, pg. 81)
The next time you visit Leavenworth, you will now have the inside story of how an innovative couple from Seattle had the vision to transform Leavenworth into what it is today. Yet, due to their status as a gay couple, they have essentially never received the credit they are owed for their innovative vision.
Arksey, L. (2010, July 5). History Link. Retrieved from Leavenworth — Thumbnail History: https://www.historylink.org/file/9475
City of Leavenworth. (n.d.). City of Leavenworth. Retrieved from History: https://leavenworth.org/history/
Price, E. (2003). One Couples Defining Moments: To the Pacific Northwest, they gave ‘Bavarianization’. Three Decades Later, they Gave Themselves Permission to Come Out. Los Angeles Times.
Price, T. P. (1997). Miracle Town: Creating America’s Bavarian Village in Leavenworth, Washington. Vancouver: Book for All Seasons.
Sudderth, J. (1997). Leavenworth Washington: A Study in Landscape Evolution and Cultural Identity. Journal of the West, 74-83.