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Casino Pool Room, One of the Earliest Seattle Establishments for Gays, Opens in 1930

From HistoryLink.org Essay 1167

Pioneer Square

Second Avenue and Yesler Way, Seattle, January 8, 1938. (PEMCO Webster & Stevens Collection, Museum of History & Industry, Seattle; All Rights Reserved)

In 1930, the Casino Pool Room opens. It is the earliest known establishment in Seattle and King County to cater mainly to gays. The Casino was located in Pioneer Square at 172 S. Washington Street. Joseph S. Bellotti owned the club and John and Margaret Delevitti managed it.

In most cities, men were not allowed to dance together. The Casino paid Seattle policemen “protection money” and there men danced happily with other men. Nicknamed “Madame Peabody’s Dancing Academy for Young Ladies,” the Casino was considered the most open place for gays on the West Coast.

Shortly after the Casino opened, a new patron, Vilma (1912-1993) visited the Pool Room. “Vilma,” one of Seattle’s “best known gay men,” arrived in Seattle in 1930. He worked in the Double Header Tavern, a gay bar, on the weekends until the illness that led to his death in 1993. He was interviewed in the early 1990s. Following is a description of his first visit:

“Two friends of mine [had] visited Seattle and raved about it. That’s all I heard, Seattle, Seattle, Seattle and this fabulous place called the Casino and all the neat kids there. [Vilma decided to leave Minneapolis where he was born and move to Seattle.] We arrived in Seattle on June 15, 1930, and headed straight for the Casino. The Casino was in the basement below the Double Header. We could hardly wait to get down those stairs. It was a large basement without any decoration except a few signs for Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola and later when Franklin Roosevelt became president the managers, John and Margaret Delevitti, put up a picture of FDR which is still there today.

“When you came down the stairs from Washington Street, you’d find a small restaurant area and a long bar across the room where they sold soft drinks and near beer, which was one-half percent alcohol, the legal limit during Prohibition. But we’d go down to shacktown called Hooverville and buy a pint of whiskey and bring it back to the Casino and drink it there at the bar. The Casino had two pool tables and tables for playing cards. It was a crossroads. There were lots of gay kids at the Casino and we made friends right away.

“John and Margaret wouldn’t let anyone mess with the queens. They protected us and we loved them for that. They’d do anything for you if they liked you, even bail you out of jail. The Casino was the only place on the West Coast that was so open and free for gay people. But John [Delevitti] paid off the police; he was good at working the payoff system.”

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