The Royal Esquire Club, a 60-year old social club devoted to the betterment of the African Americans and the community in south Seattle, will celebrate its 60th anniversary Saturday, April 5.
Located in the heart of Columbia City, The Royal Esquire Club started out during the years when segregation still kept people of color out of many places. It provided a hospitable place where Seattle's African Americans could socialize and build friendships as well as a forum where community issues were aired. The club was a center for community organizing, offering support to students and welfare organizations. It also became a thriving jazz club where the likes of Count Basie, Bat King Cole, Dinah Washington entertained Seattleites of all races.
The club has donated $400,000 to students and community projects from the Bertram C. Williams Scholarship Fund and The Royal Esquire's Charitable Contribution Fund. Among those community projects are programs such as the Rainier Boys and Girls Club, Rainier Football Association and the Northwest African American Museum.
Five young men — Doyle Barner, Frederick Bowmar, William Childress, Freddie Ray and Joe West — founded The Royal Esquire Club in November 1947, "to promote social and civic betterment in the community, city, state and county."
In January 1948, the club held its first general assembly to elect officers. John Primm, a prominent young Black attorney, drafted the initial bylaws and submitted them to the Secretary of State for Washington. The club was chartered by the State of Washington in April of 1948 with 27 members.
Today, the club has more than 90 regular and 4,000 associate members. Two of the charter and life members remain living, Ted Ellis and Lincoln (Sonny) Grazzette. In 1952, the club purchased its first building in a converted house at 14th and Washington. It became a force in the community focusing on supporting youth activities and charities. The club also became a charter member of the Jackson Street Community Council, a life member of the NAACP, and the initial sole sponsor of the International Little League; which has fostered many junior athletic programs.
It took 15 years and an appeal to the governor for the club to win its "Class H" private club liquor license. In 1964, tired of having their applications denied, a caravan of members drove to Olympia and marched to the governor's mansion demanding to see Gov. Albert Rossellini. Rossellini intervened, asking the chairman of the Liquor Control Board to drive to Olympia from Centralia and meet the club officers over lunch. By the time the group returned to Seattle from Olympia, there was a notice on the clubhouse door and on utility poles in the vicinity that the Liquor Control Board was considering The Royal Esquire Club for a liquor license.
In 1986, the club moved to its current located at 5016 Rainier Ave. S. Many community-based social, civic and youth organizations continue to meet there without charge. The wives, widows and companions of regular members of the club formed the Women's Auxiliary in 1992. This group is a social and civic force in the community, providing financial support for many activities.