The Third Thirty
Pat Holm: The Third Thirty, Story 4
“Don’t ever get into social justice issues if you want to make money because there is no money to be made. What we did is we enriched our lives. What keeps me going is the outside world seems to be getting really unequal and people are suffering. And then I have friends that are all involved in the same process of social justice. The friends you make are forever, and we keep each other going.”
Co-owner of Olympia’s first coffee house, The Null Set (1964-1967)
Local resident since 1962
image credit: Molley Gillispie
Elaine Vradenburgh: Welcome to The Third Thirty. I’m Elaine Vradenburgh.
Pat Holm: My parents both had their schooling interrupted by the Depression of the 1930s. And they had to settle for unskilled work. And my dad became a chauffeur for a very wealthy Atkinson family in Minneapolis. And we lived above the garage, and my mom worked cleaning their mansion. And when I was young, I witnessed my father being yelled at by the lady of the house for some small infraction he had done.She was very sharp. And it was very upsetting to me as a little child, to see my father who I love dearly being yelled at.
Elaine Vradenburgh: Today we’re visiting with Pat Holm. Pat is a white woman who was born in 1937. She’s an activist, artist, mother, and friend to many. She arrived in Olympia in the early 1960s and opened the city’s first coffee house, called The Null Set, in 1964, which, at that time, was a radical idea and space. It was only open for 3 years, and we were curious how this space fit into the breadth of her life and into the tradition of activism in our community. Here’s Pat.
Pat Holm: So my class consciousness really came from when we moved when I was nine. My family was actually able to buy a small house, a block away from Lake Minnetonka. And all the rich people lived on the water in large mansions and gated communities. AndI saw the huge disparity between how they lived and how we lived. And my mother cleaned their houses, you know, the mansions. And I would come home to an empty house after school, because she was still working for an hour or so. And then she would come home, very tired after cleaning their houses, and then make our dinner every night. And she was the last person to be up at night in the first person to get my father's breakfast before he went off to the war plant.
Pat Holm: We read books a lot, even though there weren't books in the home. I just read a lot, and I loved fairy tales. And about sixth grade, I found out about marionettes.And so I made a very elaborate Marionette. And also, these Atkinsons, when she died, I got this really elaborate set of doll furniture. It was in the finest wood and all the little drawers worked and everything, and I had a set of storybook dolls that are about, oh six to eight inches, or maybe seven inches tall. And I would make clothes for those dolls that fit the doll furniture. And at Christmas time, I put a little Christmas tree in there and decorate it. The dollhouse was very much like these mansions that my dad worked in. And so I had this imaginary life of this upper class life for my dolls.
Elaine Vradenburgh: Pat became interested in theater when she was a teenager. She wanted to be on Broadway, and she wanted to study drama in college. And she grew older theater became a way to organize and comment on or critique social norms. Pat attended the University of Minnesota where she got involved in socialist causes while studying theater.
Pat Holm: I just loved it. Somehow it was my calling. And I made the Dean's list in my first year, and they were hoping I'd be able to go to graduate school. And I was so disappointed when I became pregnant. This one friend of mine who was a theatre director was trying to persuade me to get an abortion, and I almost did that.But then Ron, who I'd met, who was the father, persuaded us that we would just run away because we couldn't tell my parents. He didn't want to face that. And so we ran away, basically loaded the car and came out to Seattle where he had a friend who could help him get a job. It just changed the whole trajectory of my life not to be able to continue in theatre where I was doing so well.
Elaine Vradenburgh: There’s a lot to share about Pat’s time in Seattle in the late1950s and early 60s. Her involvement in the democratic socialist movement deepened. She got her degree in Teaching and English Literature from theUniversity of Washington, she was fired from her job as a file clerk after becoming pregnant with her second child, she got divorced and remarried. These are some of more pronounced moments. There were also lots and lots of moments in-between, including meeting Bob and Bonnie Gillis, who she would later go onto open the Null Set with.
Pat Holm: I didn't have a driver's license so I was riding my bike every place, and I think it was at that time too I had started nude modeling, which paid very well, like$20 an hour, and that was a lot. And so I was able to go to these art schools, and also to UW and various other schools, to nude model. I couldn't find a job, a teaching job, that summer after I graduated. And so I found out from my friend, Bob and Bonnie, who were also artists. And I had met Bob at the University of Washington, my being a nude model, and him, you know, he was taking art classes. And, you know, we became friends, and he was also interested in socialism. And then Bob got a job in Lacey, Washington. And I thought, well, Bob can leave Seattle, I can too. And so I took a job that suddenly became available.
Elaine Vradenburgh: Pat and her second husband, Pete, first moved to Centralia wherePat taught English for a year then moved to Olympia after Pete got a position in the Health Department. She found it frustratingly conservative, but she also found community with Bob and Bonnie and other unitarians who shared her beliefs and wanted to put them into practice. And the idea of the Null Set grew from this community.
Pat Holm: That became my friend circle is the Unitarian Church. At that time, it was just aFellowship of maybe 40 families or so. The Unitarians met at the OlympiaWomen's Club, and they just rented the space for Sunday mornings. So they were all very interested in us having this coffee house too, because it was a physical place that they didn't have to rent, and we could have meetings there, and we really encouraged all of that to happen. And at the time, with CivilRights, the Vietnam War, and we had these groups that met at the coffee house.
Pat Holm: There just weren't any physical places that promoted talking, relationships, except churches, but they only met on Sundays, and you could go to a restaurant but then you had to order a whole meal and you didn't know who was going to be there. But at the Null Set was kind of intended to be a group of people that tended to know each other, or they came to know each other, and kind of hangout together.
Musicians who played at the coffee house also traveled up and down the West Coast. They brought all these new ideas from San Francisco and other bigger cities, and so that was a big concern for the city fathers at the time. They didn't want these new ideas coming into their small, protected city of Olympia. They wanted to keep it like it was forever.
We had a woman here in town knew an FBI agent that she told us was regularly coming to the coffee house and watching, listening and watching, because he thought something subversive was going on there. And then, frequently the musicians at two o'clock in the morning on Friday and Saturday would be followed, and there wasn't much traffic on the streets at that time so it was quite clear what was happening. And then one of our young singers has a disturbing memory that is just seared into her memory. When she came home--she lived in Bremerton--and there were signs all over her front yard saying the Minutemen are watching you. And the Minutemen were an extreme anti-communist paramilitary group in the United States founded in 1961, and much like the Proud Boys or the militia that's operating now, and they were a very frightening group. And these men had probably tracked Tom and Kay's movements, the singers, as they went from coffee house to coffee house, and they were singing songs, spreading ideas of freedom for Blacks and the Vietnam War and free love and so on.
Elaine Vradenburgh: It’s hard now to imagine how truly radical a space this was because coffee houses are commonplace today, and they are rarely considered subversive spaces now. But in 1964, it was a site for organizing, connecting people to justice struggles in other parts of the country, and creating an inclusive space for creative expression. And for Pat, personally, a place where she could re-engage with her love of political theater.
Pat Holm: We would have the people from the fellowship would come to our house, and we'd sit around the dining room table, making these puppet heads. And then I would make the costumes. And then another woman did the scene design and other people helped make the theater itself. One of the plays was Berthold Brecht’s The Exception and the Rule, which I had heard about from the MIME troupe doing it, and so once I read that play, I thought we've got to do it here too. I didn't have the wherewithal to do it with people, we just decided to do with puppets. It was basically a communist play about exploitation of workers by the bosses. It was a very powerful play. And people have never seen a live puppet show. And we had an audience of maybe 100 or so. And we did it a few times. And we thought that would revive people coming to the coffeehouse, but it didn't, it was too small.
Elaine Vradenburgh: Although the Null Set only lasted three years, from 1964 to 1967, it signaled a turning point for the culture of the city that would continue with the founding of The Evergreen State College the same year the coffee house closed. In many ways, it helped to seed and nourish the values for community care and social justice that underscore so much of our local identity today.
Pat Holm: Don’t ever get into social justice issues if you want to make money on them, because there is no money to be made. And what we did is we enriched our lives.What keeps me going is the outside world seems to be getting really unequal and people are suffering—and then I have friends too that are all involved in the same process of social justice. The friends you make are forever. And we keep each other going.
Elaine Vradenburgh: The Third Thirty was produced by Window Seat Media. It was a collaboration between Pat Holm, Lyn Hertz, who interviewed Pat, Sophia McLain who helped to edit this story, Molley Gillipsie, who photographed Pat for our website and exhibit, Nick Rawson, who composed music for this story, and me. Funding for this series was provided by The City of Olympia, the Freas Foundation, and the Thurston County Heritage Grant program. To learn more about Window Seat Media and hear more stories, visit www.windowseatmedia.org. More information about the Null Set can be found in Pat’s book The Null Set Remembered.