Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Hans (Sonny) Thorwald Hansen, Jr.

I was researching Rosedale and its surroundings at the Gig Harbor Harbor History Museum Resource Room for a blog when I happened to come across an essay entitled “North Rosedale - A History” written by Elma McIntyre Burnett.  Although the essay isn’t dated it appeared to be written in the 1930s.  As I am reading through Mrs. Burnett’s essay to gather information for a blog  I came to one specific paragraph in Mrs. Burnett’s story which suddenly had my full attention.  It was like the proverbial light bulb going off and I knew I had to find a way to write on one specific family in North Rosedale.

This is the paragraph:

In 1925 H. T. Hansen bought Cherries’ place.  A point of land with tide flats included.  They had a good goeduck bed.  The Hansens had 5 children, Constance, Virginia, Ruth, Merium (sic) & Sonny Jr.  Merium (sic)  was later killed while riding her bike in Tacoma.  They had a big home in Tacoma with 5 hired help but in the summer the(sic) roughed it.  They had only one hired hand to care for the saddle horses & raise a garden.  They had electricity brought in and it was there I saw my first refrigerator.  They were new then and they even made ice cream - a wondrous (sic) thing.  They had a new Cadillac car with jump up seats in the back between the front seat and the back seat, they could be folded up.”

Now you are probably wondering what is it about that paragraph of the Hansen family that would set off a light bulb in my head.  In the 1960s I lived in San Francisco and worked for an insurance brokerage house named Miller & Ames.  Sonny Hansen was training to take over the business that his grandfather, Lorenz Hansen, had started and his father, Hans Thorwald, was then CEO and Chairman of the Board. (The name had been changed from L. N. Hansen & Co. when Sonny’s grandfather died and his own father brought in a partner; they changed the firm’s name to Hansen & Rowland Inc.)  San Francisco was the center of the insurance industry for the western part of the United States and as a result, Sonny would visit frequently.  Miller & Ames specialized in construction surety and we co-brokered the larger construction accounts written by Sonny’s Tacoma company, Hansen & Rowland Inc.

Hansen & Rowland, Inc. courtesy of Tacoma Public Library Image Archives

But before I finish that connection lets talk a little be more about the property that H. T. Hansen bought in 1925.  Bob Crandall writes in his book “Rosedale” that he doesn’t remember what year the Cherry family moved to Cherry Point but he believes it was around 1900.  The property was planted with fruit trees.  Some apples did well but it was better known for the bing cherry trees which produced large crop of cherries every year.  It was not unusual for people living in Tacoma, Seattle and the surrounding areas to purchase property for summer homes in the Gig Harbor communities.

Sometime in the early 1900s a state law was passed allowing property owners to purchase the tide lands adjoining their property.  Joseph and Martha Jane Cherry managed to buy their tide lands but unfortunately following their son Willard’s death they suffered financially as well as emotionally.  The Cherry family sold the property to Mr. H. T. Hansen to avoid losing their home for past due taxes.

Even after Mr. Hansen owned the property the land was an operating farm until World War II.  Besides the cherry trees, grapes were a large farm crop.    Following the war, the land was allowed to lay fallow and turned simply into fields; sometimes is was used as pasture land.

H. T. Hansen, Sr.’s parents were born in Denmark, although I believe at the time Lorenz Hansen was born in Sleswig (sic), it was under German control as it is on the Jutland Peninsula and fluctuated being Danish and German control during its history.  Lorenz and Christina immigrated to the United States in the mid-1800s and settled for a while in Ashland, Wisconsin where Hans, Sr. was born in 1888.  Shortly after his birth the family moved to Tacoma, Washington.  

Hansen & Rowland, Inc. was the successor to L. N. Hansen & Co. in 1889 as mentioned earlier.  Hans Sr. eventually took over the business and built it into one of the largest and most successful insurance brokerage houses and agencies in the Tacoma area.  Their book of business was varied, and in 1930 even owned their own airplane which allowed them to travel throughout the state and Oregon to inspect the various businesses and properties they insured.  Herbert T. Duren joined Hansen & Rowland, Inc. in the 1920s and was active in insuring fishing boats and maritime industry in the Puget Sound until his death in the 1987. 

Sonny Hansen took over the presidency of Hansen & Rowland, Inc. in 1966 following his father’s death, and continued to grow the business through the years.  Just prior to his death in 1981 at age 53, the business was sold to a large national insurance company.  It continued to operate under the name Hansen & Rowland Inc. until 1989, and then it closed the doors in Tacoma and moved all its operations to Seattle.

And getting back to my association with Sonny and Hansen & Rowland; well in 1977 I moved to Gig Harbor and the following year went to work for Sonny and Hansen & Rowland, Inc.  I remained with the company and its successors until 1994, after which I moved on to another Tacoma insurance firm. 

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment