Anne-Marije Rook
Karoline Morrison, the owner of the Old Carnegie Library, was once a showgirl at the historic Ciro's in Hollywood.

Neighborhood Gems: Karoline Morrison

For this interview, Karoline Morrison invited the Ballard News-Tribune into her office at the top of three flights of creaking stairs in the Old Carnegie Library. How much longer she will claim this office as her own is unclear. She has put the 107-year-old historic building up for sale with a three-million-dollar-pricetag and interest has been high, she said.

"I've been here for over 40 years," Morrison said. "But I'm in no hurry to leave."

Morrison started leasing space in the building in 1963 and bought the building in 1979.

She said she feels proud to have, in part, saved the building. "I bought this at a time when people didn't care much about old buildings and were tearing them down," she said.

Morrison requires the new owner(s) to care for the building just as she has. The building is listed on the National and State historic register and Morrison would like to see the building preserved.

Morrison said it's time for someone new to take over and for her, to concentrate on some new and exciting things, starting with a memoir.

Morrison has written a book to be released next month, has a sequel in the making, and perhaps a movie in her near future, as well.

Born in Tacoma, Morrison moved to Seattle as a teenager and attended the University of Washington.

At a UW fraternity party, she met her ex-husband.

"It was wild. On the outside it was such an elegant building, but inside it was all loud music and beer," she said.

Straying from the loud music, Morrison walked around the building and came across a dimly lit room where she found a guy playing Beethoven on the piano.

"He was the most interesting looking guy," she said. "He was so handsome."

And that's where her book, Twilight of the Blondes, starts. Her memoir is a bittersweet story that eventually leads to the Old Carnegie Library.

"It was fun but sometimes you pay a high price for fun," she said.

Morrison married the handsome pianist she met at the frat party and went to Hollywood.

"We went to Hollywood because he had talent and I could sell," she said, adding that she learned her selling skill as a 12 year-old working at a clothing store in Tacoma for 32 cents per hour.

In Hollywood her marriage soon became rocky.

"It was too much wine, women and songs," she said.

Instead of 'selling' her husband's talent, Morrison became an entertainer, dancer, model and showgirl on the glamourous Sunset Strip.

"I looked like a total dumb blond," she said. "Men don't tip women who they think look smarter than them."

Morrison worked at the historic Ciro's nightclub, which was the playground of Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis and the like.

As the "Queen of the Sunset strip," Morrison experienced Hollywood at its peak.

"I loved it there," she said. "It was exciting and the tips were generous."

People are fascinated with that era, Morrison said, because there has never been something quite like it.

"Stars in those days were legends," she said. "Even more so than today."

For a few years, it was all costumes, glamour, and entertainment for Morrison, but then the first signs of change were appearing and night clubs started closing down.

When Morrison got pregnant by her on-again-off-again husband, she left Hollywood to go back to Seattle.

In Seattle, Morrison continued to model and was employed by department stores as well the World Fair.

But she missed the glamour of Hollywood and went back while her mother took care of the baby.

"When I came back in the early 1960s, Las Vegas had killed the Sunset Strip. Night clubs were going down like dominos," she said.

This is where the title of her book came from.

"Times were changing, night clubs were closing left and right and the mob was taking over," she said.

"And there was a Brunette in the White House with a chest as flat as yesterday's road kill."

That's what's interesting about glamour, Morrison said. "Glamour means 'the look of beauty where none exist'." So when Hollywood could no longer compete with Las Vegas, the glamour was gone.

With nothing keeping her in Hollywood, Morrison went back to Seattle and left the show-business for good.

"I was never going to give out my measurements again."

She divorced her husband on April 1st, 1963 and decided to start selling.

"I was never going to work for another man again," she said.

She leased a space in the Old Carnegie Library to start an antique furniture consignment shop and she hasn't left the building since.

"You know, the picture on the cover tells the whole book," she said.

The picture, a souvenir poster of Ciro's, features a young Morrison with a silhouette of a man's face on either side of her.

"I never noticed how symbolic that photo is," Morrison said. "It's two men closing in on me."

Morrison went to Hollywood to make her husband famous and then made a career in entertaining men. Yet her success and happiness, she made in Seattle, working for herself.

"I guess my message is to never let your own happiness depend on another's success," she said.

"In a way, [the Carnegie building] is a trophy to myself."

"Twilight of the Blondes" is published by Tigress and Morrison's first reading will be held at the Ballard QFC in the wine section.

"We'll have a champagne tasting and I'll display some of my costumes," she said.

Having always been passionate about fashion, Morrison said she kept her clothes and costumes from the Sunset Strip, most of which still fit her today.

In fact, in her book Morrison is photographed in a lacey, black Merry Widow.

"It's like a corset but much cuter," she said. "It's funny. Can you imagine? Me, a senior citizen, wearing the Merry Widow!"

And that's where the old showgirl comes out: "Glamour knows no age," Morrison said. "If it feels right, wear it."

Neighborhood Gems is a feature series highlighting the unsung heroes in the community. Know anyone who should be featured? Let us know! Email anner@robinsonnews.com

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