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Originally published Tuesday, March 6, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Obituary

Josef "Joe" Diamond, father of self-serve parking lots, remembered as tough, genuine

An unflinching character in a town that prefers to make nice, attorney Josef "Joe" Diamond was best known as the architect of the self-pay...

Seattle Times staff reporter

An unflinching character in a town that prefers to make nice, attorney Josef "Joe" Diamond was best known as the architect of the self-pay parking-lot empire that bears his name.

He dedicated himself to hard work and demanded it of others. In the course of that work, Mr. Diamond made his share of enemies. But the intense loyalty he engendered, particularly from employees, kept him going — and working — until nearly the end.

Mr. Diamond died Saturday (March 3) at his Queen Anne Hill home, three days shy of what would have been his 100th birthday.

In an interview a year ago, Mr. Diamond, laid up after a fall, spoke of his intention to return to work and to live to be 100.

It's one of the few times he didn't get his way.

Fair or not, his name forever will be synonymous with the barrels and boots his attendants attached to cars they claimed were parked illegally in Diamond Parking lots throughout the Seattle area.

Mr. Diamond was not the warmest and fuzziest guy in town. But like his last name that suggests something genuine and brilliant, Mr. Diamond was both.

"I have found him daring, at times hardheaded and occasionally blind to reality, yet always patient and determined not to hurt feelings — quite a feat for a stubborn soul with a delightful sense of humor," his wife, Muriel Bach Diamond, said recently.

He rose to power as a lawyer and practiced law concurrently with running the Diamond Parking empire, helping build the company through real-estate transactions that transformed worthless land into revenue-generating property.

Diamond Parking is now run by Mr. Diamond's grandson, Jonathon Diamond, and consists of more than 1,000 lots and garages in nine Western states. It is the largest and oldest family-owned parking operation in the world, the family says.

Mr. Diamond's older brother, Louis, started the company in 1922. Only after serving in World War II did Mr. Diamond, along with his other brother, Leon, take over the company, as brother Louis wanted to retire in Hawaii.

During the peak of Louis Diamond's tenure, the business had grown to 17 locations in Seattle. But by the end of the war, the number of lots had dwindled to four. Faced with a postwar labor shortage, Mr. Diamond dealt with a lack of qualified lot attendants by devising slotted coin boxes for unattended lots. Other parking operators across the country quickly followed suit, but Mr. Diamond is widely considered the father of the self-serve parking lot.

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The self-pay system had its troubles, however.

To those vehicles that parked without paying in advance, Mr. Diamond's employees would attach a 50-gallon drum. It wasn't a great way to make friends, Mr. Diamond agreed during the 2006 interview.

"We started out chaining the barrel to a car, and that was kind of rough," he recalled. "Then I got to the point where I'd disconnect the battery so the car wouldn't start. Then people would blame me for breaking their car's mechanical system. So I quit doing that, too.

"... For a while, we would have the cars towed someplace else and they would have to pay to get their car and they wouldn't even know where it was. But that caused a lot of problems. And we didn't like to cause problems with people."

State Supreme Court Justice Tom Chambers, who once worked for Mr. Diamond's law firm, called him "the most unforgettable character I have ever met."

"Sure, he scared me at first. Why not?" Chambers wrote in a profile of Mr. Diamond for the March 2002 King County Bar Association's Bar Bulletin. "He was a big man with an imposing presence and booming voice. But, I quickly learned that he was not only one of the state's most dynamic, creative and resourceful lawyers, but he was also a thoughtful caring man. He never raised his voice and he never swore."

The son of a Russian tailor who worked in a village near Kiev, Mr. Diamond was born in Los Angeles — the first of his family born in the U.S. The family moved from Los Angeles to Seattle when he was only 2.

Mr. Diamond was a member of the first graduating class of Garfield High School in 1924. His childhood friends included a future King County prosecuting attorney, Charles O. "Chuck" Carroll, and a future governor, Albert Rosellini.

After graduating from the University of Washington School of Law in 1931, he got a job with Caldwell and Lycette, a firm headed by Hugh Campbell, who had been Seattle's mayor and city attorney. Mr. Diamond talked his way into a 30-day stint at the law office, persuading Campbell to let him hang around in the library to learn more about the practice of law. He received no salary.

After 30 days, Campbell hired him at $100 a month. By age 29, he rose to partner in the firm. Chambers dubbed him "the rainmaker," noting that he once represented almost all of the construction firms and the residential and commercial builders in the city.

"Practicing law is what I enjoyed most, and I think I was quite good at it," Mr. Diamond said in the 2006 interview. "Making money in the law business was not my first incentive. It was to handle things for people, make them happy, win, get a good result, which I did."

In his most famous case as a lawyer, Mr. Diamond argued a reverse-discrimination claim before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1974, challenging the UW law school's policy for accepting minority applicants over white applicants with better grades.

His client, Marco DeFunis, earned his law degree because of the case, but Mr. Diamond was unable to convert the case into a class action. Still, it laid the foundation for the Bakke case in California, which set precedent on reverse-discrimination cases.

The family lists survivors as wife Muriel; son Joel Diamond and daughter-in-law Julie Diamond of Seattle; two grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by Violett Diamond, his first wife, to whom he was married 47 years, and Ann Dulien, his second wife.

A memorial service was Monday.

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or seskenazi@seattletimes.com

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