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Douglas, Seattle construction leader, dead at 95

SEATTLE – James Bostwick Douglas, a construction magnate who overcame the crippling effects of polio to play a central role in construction of the Space Needle and other civic institutions, is dead at 95.

Douglas, who built one of the nation’s first shopping malls, oversaw construction for the 1962 world’s fair and helped institute Seafair as the city’s annual summer festival, died May 4 of pneumonia, relatives and associates said.

A native of Seattle, the son of commercial builder John Douglas, he used leg braces and later a wheelchair after being born with polio.

“He said to me several times that the best thing that ever happened to him was polio,” said his cousin, C.R. Douglas, host and producer of the local television show “City Inside-Out.” “It made him do everything harder. It gave him a work ethic.”

Douglas earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Washington, attended Harvard Business School and in 1950 built the Northgate Shopping Mall, one of the first retail centers with department stores and smaller shops facing a walkway instead of a road.

In 1952 he became chairman of the city’s first United Way campaign and came up with the idea of soliciting workers and businesses for one donation that would go into a pot for various charities rather than seeking individual donations for each group. That first year the campaign raised more than $3.1 million.

Also in the 1950s he headed a group that established Seafair as an annual summertime festival.

As vice president of construction for the Seattle World’s Fair Commission, Douglas brought together investors, architects and contractors to build the 605-foot Space Needle with a revolving restaurant beneath the spire.

His philanthropic contributions included $1 million to the University of Washington Business School and nearly $1 million to Swedish Medical Center.

He retired in 1976.

Survivors include sons James C. Douglas and John Douglas and three grandchildren. A private memorial was being planned.