September 2016 Bar Bulletin
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September 2016 Bar Bulletin

McMicken, Rupp & Schweppe — A Memoir

(Sixth in a Series)


When we last left you in August, Mr. Rupp was giving us a tour of the firm’s offices in the Colman Building. Mr. Rupp writes during 1971.

The office was on the sixth, and top, floor of the building, and the letterhead stated the address as “657-671 Colman Building”. I thought nothing of that double numbering until one time I heard Mr. Herbert Ringhoffer of Walla Walla make a speech about Judge Steinert. “My letterhead”, said Mr. Ringhoffer, “gives my office address as 400-410 Baker Building in Walla Walla. And one day I got a letter from judge Steinert addressed to me at 400, 401, 402, 403, 404, 405, 406, 407, 408, 409, 410 Baker Building. I asked him why he did that, and he said, ‘Why, I didn’t know what room you’d be in when the postman came by’.” After that I had our letterhead changed to read “657 Colman Building”.

I think of that incident occasionally when I see a letterhead that gives an address as “Suite” something or other.

In the old days roll-top desks were standard. By the time I got there there were only four or five. Dad had one, which Don MacLean acquired after Dad died and had remodeled for a desk and a coffee table at his home. Al Schweppe had one which was discarded some years ago. I remember cleaning it out preparatory to its removal. Al had “inherited” it from, I think, Mr. Hughes and used it for storage. One of the documents in it was a file of the bills introduced into the State Senate in the first session in 1889-1890. I gave it to my classmate, Marian Gallagher, the law Librarian at the University.

Another one was in use by the stenographers, specifically by a great lady named Florence Boswell. Mrs. Boswell was so little that one couldn’t see her behind the roll-top structure, which impelled Jack Gose to tell her that she should hoist the Royal Standard on the top when she was “in residence”.

When I first came in the office Mrs. Boswell typed a letter for me, and when I read it over I decided to change a word or two, and I did so with a pen. Then I signed it and took it back to her to mail. Soon she was in my room to let me know, in no uncertain way and with eyes flashing, that letters like that did not go out of the office. That a first-rate law firm did not allow sloppy work and that hereafter if I wanted to change something I was to have the document retyped. That straightened me out, and I never forgot it.

The fourth roll-top desk was Mr. McMicken’s. Bernard Reiter “inherited” that desk, and one time he fell under the spell of some decorator friends of his, the late Paul Siegel and his wife. They took the desk, removed the roll-top and put the top of the roll-top down on the desk. It was a handsome top with a little railing around it. That part of the remodeling was all right. But then they treated the oak to a heavy sandblast job and “antiqued” it by rubbing white paint into the exposed grain. It was awful! At least I thought it was awful and always called the desk, “Bernard’s whited sepulchre”. Dad was a bit more subtle. He would stand and look at it and say, “That used to be a beautiful desk. McMicken had that desk specially built for him after the fire of 1889.” Then he would stalk away.

Another thing about desks that I remember was that my desk for years was a battered flat-top oak-veneer desk that Winlock Miller had salvaged from a client that was about to discard it. Finally Don MacLean’s comments about it became so sulphorous that I looked about for a new one. None of the standard modern desks sold by office supply houses seemed to fit the somewhat Victorian atmosphere of the office, so I finally got a handsome French-provincial style fruitwood desk from Wm. L. Davis & Sons Co. (When I left the office I took it home, and it is now Libby’s desk.)

When Dad found out that it cost $900 he professed to be horrified and pointed out that his roll-top had been inherited from, I suppose, Senator Allen, that his swivel chair was a present from the Superior Court judges because of some service that he had rendered to the court, and that he had bought his table for $10. He would wag his head and refer to “John’s opulent desk.”

He did not really mean any reproof and he knew factually that one could no longer buy an office table for $10, but the reaction was symptomatic of that of older people to rising prices. They, or I suppose I should say “we”, are intellectually aware that now the starting salary for good young lawyers in the large Eastern cities is $16,000 per year, but they readily recall, and it seems only yesterday, when a man who commanded a salary of $10,000 a year would be bowed to respectfully as he strolled in the street. A man like that could live in a house that cost as much as $10,000.

Another thing I remember about the Colman Building was the elevators. For years the cabs were, in the style of the times, lattice-work steel cages. One could watch the walls of the shaft go by. Later on, they were, of course, enclosed.

The operators were men. Two of them I remember especially well. One was a little man named Joe who was quite simian in appearance and would heighten the effect by rattling the bars of the cage. On each floor there was a large green clay planter pot, each the home of an aspidistra. Joe used to plant beans in the sixth-floor pot, and the beanstalks would climb up the aspidistra until some unfeeling janitor, or perhaps Ken Colman or Walter Wykoff, would uproot them. Then Joe would plant more beans. He used to water the beans with mouthfuls of water from the water fountain nearby. The other operator was Mr. Lull. He was older and more sedate than Joe. No bean foolishness for Mr. Lull. He was a phrenologist.

It was quite interesting to watch Mr. Lull with a stranger. He would stare at the man’s head and then burst forth with something like, “I see you’re kind to animals.” The man would be startled, and his alarm would not be allayed when Mr. Lull explained, “I can tell by the bumps on your head.” Fortunately there were only six floors in the building, so the exposure to Mr. Lull’s searching gaze was brief.

Later on, in the fullness of time, female operators supplanted the men; and now, of course, the elevators are automatic. Several of the girls were very pretty, and we thought the change a distinct improvement. I remember that one of them married one of the tenants in the building, and I have since wondered how the marriage worked out. She was a beautiful girl, but Joe Most always maintained that she had “the look of a mean horse”.

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