Most years on St. Patrick’s Day, if you look along Fourth Avenue in Seattle there’s a green stripe painted down the street from the King County Courthouse to Westlake Center, which is the route of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
But how did Seattle start the tradition of painting a green stripe through downtown Seattle?
The answer leads to a fashion icon and one of Seattle’s most colorful characters who defied police orders with his paint cans.
John Doyle Bishop, who came to Seattle in 1947, had a clothing shop at Fifth Avenue and Union Street and became known for dressing the city’s best-known women.
To be well-dressed, a woman once told a Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist, is to be Bishop-dressed. In 1967, Bishop himself was selected by Harper’s Bazzar as one of the world’s best-dressed men -- part of a list that included Rock Hudson, Fred Astaire and Cary Grant.
“He had a great taste,” restaurateur Mick McHugh said. “Every Paddy’s Day he’d put this white mink coat on and parade around the bars. And if we were lucky he’d show up at Jake O'Shaughnessy's [bar near Seattle Center].
“Then he would go out and paint a green stripe down Fifth Avenue, and he would get arrested. And I think he kind of enjoyed the publicity of all of that, of course.”
Bishop’s stripe continued in the ‘60s and the ‘70s until city leaders finally had enough. They said he could only paint the stripe with tape. But Bishop said, “I’m out.”
While members of the Irish Heritage Club, including McHugh, marked the St. Patrick’s Day parade route with green tape, Bishop painted a green stripe down the Queen Anne counterbalance. Police weren’t pleased, but longtime Seattleites loved it.
The Seattle Police Department didn’t save any records of Bishop’s arrests or short-term jail stays, and no archived films of his antics have been uncovered.
Bishop was born in Montana but celebrated his Irish roots. He wrote all his letters in green ink, made clothes with his signature Doyle Green – even named his cat Shamrock.
Bishop was a flamboyant gay man in an era when no one acknowledged that publicly.
"He deliberately promoted his reputation as an eccentric," former P-I fashion and women's editor Sally Raleigh one wrote. "But the many, many good things he did are a deep, dark secret. ... There were the many benefit shows he staged for his church, for Seattle University and for the Seattle University Guild and its scholarship fund."
Bishop died in October 1980, and in his will he arranged for an estate auction at the Seattle Hilton with the 300 guests required to either wear black tie or Doyle Green. They arrived in everything from a fur coat and corduroy pants to a mint-green dinner jacket.
His fur coats were auctioned. So was his Waterford crystal. Even Shamrock.
The proceeds went to his niece and St. James Cathedral, where Bishop donated thousands over his lifetime. Many of his clothes are in the collection at the Museum of History and Industry, where textile specialist Clara Berg is an expert on Bishop’s legacy.
Today, the green stripe painting is done the Friday before Seattle’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. With a soundtrack of bagpipes, some take turns holding the paint sprayer after setting off from F.X. McRory’s, McHugh’s restaurant and bar, in Pioneer Square.
“It’s fantastic,” Galway, Ireland, Mayor Frank Fahy said while painting part of the stripe last Friday. “It marks Seattle as a city proud to be Irish.”
The tradition is something Bishop hoped would continue.
“When we kind of took it over,” McHugh recalled, “John Doyle aged and he said, ‘You guys do it, but have fun doing it.
“‘And if you get arrested, I’ll help you with the bail money.’”
DO YOU REMEMBER JOHN DOYLE BISHOP?
If you do, MOHAI wants to hear from you. Contact Clara Berg, MOHAI's costume and textile specialist, at
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