‘He did everything in Seattle sports’: The career of ‘S. Royal Brougham Way’ namesake

Sep 8, 2023, 12:55 PM

royal brougham way...

Royal Brougham, namesake of the street that splits Lumen Field and T-Mobile Park, is "one of the most important figures in Seattle sports history," according to historian David Eskenazi; Brougham is pictured in 1936 with a cake and a toy horse. (Courtesy MOHAI)

(Courtesy MOHAI)

On Sunday, tens of thousands of 12s will make their way to Lumen Field for the Seahawks’ 2023 season opener. As they walk to the stadium, many will cross a street called “South Royal Brougham Way” and not even pause for a second.

But some may wonder where that name comes from.

And no, it’s not pronounced “Royal Broog-um,” the way some people around here might have said it when they were a kid (not to point any fingers). The correct pronunciation of “Brougham” is more like “Brome” or “Broam.”

When it comes to the streets around the stadiums, chances are pretty good in 2023, everyone knows the backstory of the men behind the roadways called Edgar Martinez Drive South and Dave Niehaus Way South. For South Royal Brougham Way, however, its namesake’s heyday at the old Seattle Post-Intelligencer (P-I) newspaper was so long ago there are likely a lot fewer folks in the know.

So, who was Royal Brougham, exactly?

KIRO Newsradio reached out to Northwest sports collector, historian, and good friend of Seattle’s Morning News, David Eskenazi.

“He’s one of the most important figures in Seattle sports history,” Eskenazi said emphatically Thursday. “Everything and everyone went through Royal Brougham for a period of about 50 years. He was sports editor at the P-I for 50 years, he started out in the teens right out of Franklin High School working there.”

“A few years later, he was the official scorekeeper for the Stanley Cup champion Seattle Metropolitans,” Eskenazi continued. “He did everything in Seattle sports.”

An inventory of Brougham’s achievements as a writer, civic booster and philanthropist would fill volumes, and much has been written about him by David Eskenazi and others. Simply put, Brougham was a giant in 20th-century Seattle.

“Whether it was Babe Ruth or Jack Dempsey or whomever it was that was coming to town, it was Royal who was the connection for them,” Eskenazi said. “Royal was heavily involved in the Sports Star of the Year banquet, which he called ‘our little clambake,’ and which started in 1935, and which is now the second longest consecutively running sports banquet in the country.”

“Royal Brougham is just infused into the DNA of Seattle sports history from the teens through his passing,” Eskenazi continued.

Brougham stepped down as sports editor from the P-I in 1968 but continued on as a columnist for another decade, always signing his columns, “Your Old Neighbor.”

And then, so very fittingly, Royal Brougham suffered a heart attack in the press box at the Kingdome during a Seahawks game on Oct. 29, 1978. He was hospitalized and died early the next morning. Brougham was 84 years old.

Fellow P-I columnist Emmett Watson had the idea to name a street after Royal Brougham right away. Watson suggested in his column that Occidental Avenue, the street in Pioneer Square that feeds right into the Kingdome and now Lumen Field, should become “Royal Brougham Boulevard.”

Ultimately, Watson and other Brougham boosters chose South Connecticut Street instead, which had been named after that New England commonwealth back in the 1890s (and which had fewer businesses that would have had to change their letterheads and other address-related infrastructure).

In April 1979, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to rename Connecticut Street as “Royal Brougham Way.” It was officially dedicated with a public ceremony in May 1979.

The street, which in 1979 ran east to west on the south side of the Kingdome, probably ultimately proved a better choice than Occidental Street since it now cuts right between the two stadiums. Since what is now T-Mobile Park opened in 1999, South Royal Brougham Way is arguably the most important sports “driveway” in the Pacific Northwest.

Along with the volumes of columns and civic achievements, it seemed important for this story to seek out some indelible little detail about Royal Brougham that would illustrate the man and his time and his era-spanning career, which lasted from the era of President William Howard Taft to the time of President James Earl Carter.

KIRO Newsradio reached out to former Seattle P-I columnist Susan Paynter, a Bremerton native who worked for the P-I for nearly 40 years, from 1968 to 2007. That meant she overlapped with Royal Brougham at the old P-I building (original home of the neon globe) at 6th Avenue and Wall Street for about a decade.

Paynter told KIRO Newsradio that back in the 1970s, when she was the TV critic for the paper, she got to have an office up on the third floor of the newspaper so she could watch TV in peace. In those years, the printing presses were on the first floor, and most of the editorial staff was on the second floor.

That third floor was a bit of a rarified place for executives, for a political cartoonist, and for a columnist like Royal Brougham, who had originally been hired in 1910, or an unbelievable 58 years before Susan Paynter joined the staff.

“I’m not a big sports follower, but I was well aware of his influence,” Paynter said. “The remembrance of everything that had passed that was really significant in sports was all completely encapsulated in that one guy.”

Paynter says she would often pass Royal Brougham in the third-floor corridor, and he’d say, “Hello, miss” as he walked by. He walked that third-floor hallway frequently, and Paynter says she thought, maybe, he was ruminating on the column he was about to write.

Many times as she observed Brougham from her office, she would see him walking down the corridor to a distant corner of the third floor.

“Very frequently, he would spit in the corner,” Paynter told KIRO Newsradio. “And I was kind of like, ‘What the hell?’ And I realized he was chewing tobacco, and I found out later that there had been a spittoon in the corner there for many years.”

“And then, of course, with modernization,” Paynter continued, “it had been removed, and he’d still spit there,” which meant the janitorial staff had to take one extra step to keep the third-floor hallway clean. Brougham had earned the special treatment.

As for the Seahawks on that fateful Sunday back in 1978, the game against the Denver Broncos went into overtime, tied up at 17-17. And that’s when the 12th man stepped in and made all the difference. Or, more accurately, that’s when a 12th man actually stepped onto the field.

Denver attempted and missed a game-winning field goal. But there was a flag on the play. The Seahawks had one too many players on the field. The Broncos got to kick again, and Denver won the game 20-17.

Special thanks to Benjamin Lukoff of the Writes of Way blog and to Rob Ketcherside for their assistance with the early history of Connecticut Street.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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