Once again, it has been far too long since the last post (although I won’t calculate exactly how long it’s been)! If you can believe it, I am already gearing up for this summer here on the Northwest Past! Exactly two months from today will be the first in a series of themed posts, which I hope will be enjoyed as well as last year’s Neon Summer.
While today is a holiday (Happy Easter to all of you!), April 21st also marks the 57th anniversary of opening day to the 1962 World’s Fair! Since this post happened to line up with this anniversary, I thought it would only be right to feature something Century 21-related.
While they no longer have their chains, these Barbie-sized plastic phones were promotional keychains given out at the Fair’s Bell System Pavilion.
The Princess Phone, introduced by Bell in 1959, quickly became a hit with consumers. Its sleek design, weightlessness, and lighted rotary dial made it perfect for the office, the kitchen, and the bedroom. Marketed primarily toward women, the Princess originally came in five dainty colors: beige, blue, ivory, turquoise, and pink.
“The Bell System Pavilion, at the corner of American Way and Boulevard 21, presents the fascinating world of communications, past, present and future,” reads the fair’s Official Guide Book. At this Pavilion, visitors could learn about all things telephone, from direct-distance dialing, to satellite and computer technology, to the latest in communication gadgets.
“Other exhibits in the east wing include pushbutton telephones, which may eventually replace the dial,” claims the guide book. Imagine that!
The pushbutton Princess Phone was introduced a mere two years later, in 1964.
One souvenir that could be picked up from the Bell Pavilion were tiny, nonoperational Princess Phones! Measuring approximately four inches in length, the tops read “Bell System Exhibit Seattle Worlds Fair.” They were available in the same five colors as the full-sized phone and the keychains.
As for those keychains, the bottoms of them feature the Princess Phone’s catchy advertising slogan. “It’s lovely, it’s little, it lights!” refers to the three qualities that made the Princess a truly new phone: 1) its attractive colors 2) its smaller, streamlined shape and 3) its light-up dial, which could also be used as a nightlight.
Do you wish you could go back to the Bell Pavilion and get one of these little phones? While one of these keychains or miniatures may cost you a couple of bucks, you can visit the Pavilion from the comfort of your own home! Check out the promotional video for a tour around the Fair and a catchy song!
The Alaskan Way Viaduct (known colloquially as just the Viaduct) has been a fixture of Seattle’s waterfront for nearly 66 years. It is nine years older than the Space Needle, 37 years older than the Fremont Troll, and 59 years older than the Seattle Great Wheel.
When the viaduct first opened in the early 50s, the Emerald City was a much different place than the one we know today. In 1950, the city’s population was 467,591. Tourism brochures encouraged visits to Alki Point, the Government (Ballard) Locks, and [Lacey V. Murrow] Floating Bridge. As the city’s centennial approached in 1951, civic leaders developed the first-ever Seafair and built a new history museum to celebrate.
Traffic concerns downtown and on the waterfront date back to at least the 1930s, and a viaduct for Alaskan way was first recommended at this time. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Seattle had bigger things to worry about, and another traffic study wasn’t completed until 1945. Like the rest of the country, Seattle’s postwar prosperity of the late 40s and early 50s caused an economic boom, increasing population, and a surge in automobile ownership, all of which only worsened downtown traffic.
After three years of construction, the first portion of the Alaskan Way Viaduct opened to traffic on April 4, 1953. The following year, it was connected to the Battery Street tunnel, and in 1959, the southernmost portion through Sodo opened. Various on and off-ramps were added through the 60s, with the final ramp (Columbia Street) opening in February of 1966.
Seattle’s love-hate relationship with the Viaduct is almost as old as the highway itself. With visions of waterfront development and the possibility of creating a community park, City Planning Commissioner Pete Best suggested demolishing the double-decker roadway in 1970. City Councilmember John Miller echoed Best’s suggestion two years later, calling the Viaduct “an eyesore” and accusing it of separating the downtown business district from the waterfront. In 1974, he and another City Council member suggested that the completion of the West Seattle Bridge would render the Viaduct obsolete.
Of course, there was also the question of earthquakes. The Viaduct’s first big quake was in 1965, where a 6.5 magnitude shook the greater Seattle-Tacoma area, causing damage to countless buildings and bridges. While it took 36 years for the next major earthquake to hit, earthquakes in California left Seattle concerned.
A 6.5 magnitude quake shook the San Fernando Valley in 1971, leveling buildings, killing 65 people, and spurring important changes in construction practices. In 1989, San Francisco experienced the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta Earthquake, which damaged numerous roadways, including the Embarcardero freeway. Built in 1959, the Embarcardero freeway was an elevated, concrete freeway, similar in many ways to Seattle’s Viaduct.
In 1995, two professors from UW’s civil engineering department gave the state recommendations on how to improve the Viaduct. The same year, WSDOT asked the state legislature for half a million dollars to study alternatives to the elevated highway.
In 2001, a wake-up call came in the form of the Nisqually Earthquake. The 48-year-old Viaduct experienced visible damage to support columns, joints, and floor beams. This damage, coupled with the nearing end of the structure’s useful life, spurred debates of what to do next.
Three years later, WSDOT announced that they had chosen to replace the Viaduct with a tunnel. In response, community and political debates and the lack of a decision waged on for nearly five years. In January 2009, the city, county, and state agreed that a tunnel would be built.
The part of the Viaduct deemed most dangerous (the 1959 addition through Sodo) was removed in 2011. In 2013, a custom-built tunnel-boring machine, playfully dubbed “Bertha,” arrived from Japan and began its 1.7 mile journey under Seattle.
It was anything but smooth sailing for Bertha. Four months after the journey commenced, Bertha hit a steel pipe, overheated, and sat dormant for two years while repairs were made and fingers were pointed. Drilling was halted once more in early 2016 after a barge holding the dirt removed by Bertha’s drilling tilted, dumping sludge into Elliott Bay and damaging a dock. The following day, a sinkhole opened up near the drilling site.
Bertha reached the end of her trail 29 months later than the date originally projected.
A landmark, an eyesore—call it what you like, but the Viaduct is undoubtedly an iconic piece of the Seattle waterfront. It has been shown many times on film, from amateur (“Under the Viaduct,” anyone?), to movies and television shows. While it may have blocked the view from the windows of some waterfront properties, nobody who has driven the Viaduct northbound on a clear summer’s day can deny that the Viaduct itself offered a million-dollar view to everyone. And who can forget the great view of the iconic Pink Elephant Car Wash rotating neon sign on the approach of the Battery Street Tunnel? Or the constant “thud, thud” of passing automobiles that has become as much part of the Waterfront’s soundtrack as seagulls begging for French fries?
Is anybody else going to miss the Viaduct?
Although the ramps closed last week, the Alaskan Way Viaduct will close forever at 10pm tomorrow, Friday, January 11th. There’s still time for one last drive.
My, how the time flies! With a week til Christmas and a mere 3 days until the start of winter, many around the state may be wondering when The Summit and Alpental will finally open for skiers. While we wait for the snow to deepen, check out this snow-studded postcard of Smitty’s Pancake House!
There is little to be found about the origin of Smitty’s Pancake House. The first location was in Seattle, at Aurora and North 125th Street, by the Flamingo Motel. Founded by John William “Smitty” Smith, it had expanded to 32 locations in nine states and Canada by 1958. Some locations were called “Original Pancake House” or “Perkins’ Pancake House.”
Although there are still a few independent restaurants bearing its name (such as the Wenatchee location) , Smitty’s as a chain now exists solely in Canada. The site of the Original Smitty’s in Seattle is still a restaurant, although the building is hardly recognizable. Take a look below:
“Everybody’s Favorite” appears to have been their trademark, or slogan. Does anybody remember Smitty’s, and was it worthy of its title?
My goodness, has it really been that long since the last post? Thank you to everybody who stopped by to read the Northwest Neon post. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed hunting down neons and researching their origins!
Today is back to business as usual with a postcard. More specifically, a postcard of downtown Renton, Washington, circa the late 1950s or early 1960s.
This card features a look down 3rd Street at the intersection of 3rd and Williams Avenue. Below is what this area looks like now:
The first white settlers came to Renton in the 1850s. Not long after their arrival, coal was discovered and quickly became a major industry for the next 60-plus years. By the time Renton was incorporated in 1901, it was bustling with mills, mines, and factories. Although the coal industry had dwindled by 1920, Renton experienced moderate growth through the Depression.
Boeing arrived in Renton in 1941 and the plant was soon turning out six B-29 bomber planes a day. Its neighbor, the Pacific Car and Foundry, was producing 30 tanks a month. When the war ended, Renton’s economy experienced a bit of a slowdown. The federal government invested millions in the city’s housing, roads, and other infrastructure, and Boeing soon switched from bomber planes to jets.
Perhaps these are reasons the back of this postcard touts Renton as a “modern” city.
It sure seems funny that a postcard calling a city modern chose to feature a block lined with many buildings. But check out all of that great neon!
I know it feels like fall has already settled into the region, but today is really, truly, officially the last day of summer. Being the last day of summer means it is also the last installation in the Northwest Neon series. Thank you everybody who stopped by to read and liked the neon posts! After today, it will be business as usual here on the blog, featuring postcards, souvenirs, locations, and anything else pertaining to local history!
And with that, let’s get to the last of this summer’s neons!
Johnny’s at Fife; Fife, Washington
While it may not be the most interesting sign, Johnny’s at Fife has been a local favorite since 1968! Johnny’s at Fife opened as a companion to Johnny’s Dock, the iconic Tacoma restaurant that opened in 1953.
Johnny’s Dock was opened by John E. Meaker a year after he sold all of his businesses and retired. Starting as a meat cutter in 1915, Meaker went on to own a butcher shop and several restaurants across the state. Johnny’s Dock was built on Pier 3 on the Tacoma tideflats and enjoyed much success until it was destroyed in a fire on December 24, 1961. Johnny’s rebuilt and continued to operate until 1977, when the Port of Tacoma reclaimed the land for a new container terminal. At that time, Johnny’s Dock relocated to its present location on D Street.
Perhaps what Johnny’s is most famous for is its line of salad dressings, seasonings, and other sauces, launched in 1956. Many of you probably have a container of Johnny’s Seasoning Salt in your kitchen right now!
IOOF (Independent Order of Odd Fellows); Wenatchee, Washington
The IOOF fraternity was founded in Baltimore, Maryland by Thomas Wildey in 1819. It is sometimes referred to as the Triple Link Fraternity in reference to its triple link symbol, which symbolizes the IOOF motto of “Friendship, Love, and Truth.” These links are visible on this Wenatchee IOOF neon, probably dating from the 1940s or 1950s.
While I can’t find anything about the history of the Odd Fellows in Wenatchee, this IOOF Hall is well-known locally for being the site of many punk rock concerts. In more recent times, it has housed Jazzercise and martial arts classes.
Gas for Less; Wenatchee, Washington
I’m going to end the series with this lovely, but puzzling, neon-and-light bulb combination sign. Located on Wenatchee Avenue, it sits just inside of a fence surrounding an old restored gas station (Chuck’s Thrifty Gas) and other restored signs and other roadside ephemera. The purpose of this gas station is unclear, and I can only guess that it is somebody’s collection, which they kindly share with anybody who walks by.
Regardless of its purpose or originality to Washington, this sign likely dates from the 1940s.
I spent last weekend in Wenatchee, and let me tell you, it was a neon wonderland! I can still see some of the signs I was not able to stop and photograph, but for today, let’s look at some of the ones I did capture on my trip!
Timberline Motel; Peshastin, Washington
This sign is in remarkably good shape! The motel itself has been closed since 2010 or 2011, but this sign still points to the cinder block cottages that once made up the Timberline Motel. This neon probably dates to the 1950s.
Bruce Hotel; Wenatchee, Washington
Located just down the street from the historic Liberty Theatre is this sad-looking neon. There is not much information to be found on the Bruce Hotel’s history. It was once a posh hotel, but by the early 1990s, it was in disrepair and attracting the wrong kinds of guests. The Women’s Resource Center of North Central Washington purchased the hotel in 1993 and has used it for transitional housing ever since. This art deco neon likely dates to the 1940s.
KPQ Radio; Wenatchee, Washington
What would a Wenatchee post be without some apples? KPQ first hit the airwaves on May 2, 1928, but its history goes back a little further.
Radio entrepreneur Louis Wasmer was granted a license in 1927 for a radio station called KGCL, based out of Seattle. Before its first broadcast, he sold the station to a sporting goods store which changed the call letters to KPQ. The station was then sold a second time, to Bellinghamite Rogan Jones who brought it to Wenatchee.
Jones sold KPQ to Jim Wallace, Sr. in 1945. Wallace ran the station for many years, passing it down to his sons. John and Jim Wallace, Jr. filed for bankruptcy in 2006 and sold the station to Cherry Creek Media. Cherry Creek moved KPQ from its longtime home at 32 N Mission Street to its current location on Wenatchee Avenue. At that time, this iconic 1950s neon was restored and placed on its new home.
Another week has passed already, which means it’s time for more neons! I will be off to gather more pictures this weekend, but until then, enjoy these choices from the collection! A special thanks to my dad for helping gather some shots, some of which you will see today!
Poodle Dog Restaurant; Fife, Washington
In 1933, Mac Manza and Jim Zarelli opened a small diner behind a barber shop and named it Poodle Dog after San Francisco’s famous Ritz Poodle Dog. Thanks to Jim and Mac’s work schedules of alternating 12-hour shifts, the diner was open 24/7. Their hard work allowed them to continue expanding both the Poodle’s building and the menu.
Encouraged by the diner’s popularity, Mac and Jim opened the Century Ballroom behind the Poodle Dog. The ballroom attracted big-name musicians (Louis Armstrong, and the Glenn Miller Orchestra, to name a few) and huge crowds who would dine at the Dog after performances.
The restaurant was renovated in 1949, expanding the size and modernizing the look. A neon sign similar to the one above introduced the “good food” tagline. The restaurant underwent another renovation in 1967, once again expanding the square footage. Very similar to the 1949 sign, the one pictured above probably hails from the 1967 renovation.
Rainbow Cafe; Auburn, Washington
The Rainbow Cafe has been part of downtown Auburn for 89 years! Supposedly, it is the longest running restaurant in the state with the same name. Now located at 112 E Main Street, the cafe was formerly found at 130 E Main. New owners took over the cafe in 2011 and restored this neon, which probably dates to the 1960s.
Harbor Lights; Tacoma, Washington
While not technically a neon, I still think this sign is deserving of attention! When Yugoslavian immigrant Anton Barcott opened Harbor Lights in January 1959, the Tacoma waterfront was still a hub of industry. Ruston Way was still home to shipyards, lumber mills, and the ASARCO smelter. The Barcott Family sold the popular seafood restaurant to Anthony’s Restaurants in 2000. Despite a renovation, the exterior still looks delightfully 1959.
Week 11 of nonstop neons and the last week of August! With Labor Day just around the corner and an increasing number of clouds, it may be hard to believe that it’s still summer, but there are many more weeks to come.
And many more neons!
Nelson’s Jewelry; Auburn, Washington
This family-owned jeweler has served Auburn since 1944. This sign likely dates from when the storefront was updated, probably in the 1950s.
Waits’ Motel; Everett, Washington
Located just one block off of Highway 99 is the 24-unit Waits’ Motel. Stanley P. Waits opened the motel in 1957, expanding it to its current size the following year. Wait’s Motel was the eighth Everett motel built by Mr. and Mrs. Waits between 1948 and 1957. The Waits were originally from Ellensburg, where they ran a motel before relocating to Everett.
By sometime in the 1960s, the motel was under the ownership of Les and Lois Knudson. A postcard from this time boasts of the rooms’ newness, individual heat, and free T.V.
The motel originally had a neon sign, which was replaced with a back-lit plastic sign in the late 60s or early 70s. This sign matches back-lit section of the sign above. The top neon may be from the 1950s.
Spud Fish & Chips; Green Lake (Seattle) Washington
I unfortunately don’t have a better, more current image of the sign from this popular Green Lake eatery. This fantastic mid-century fish shack was sadly slated for demolition last year in favor of apartments. The restaurant, designed by Edward Cushman, failed to achieve historical landmark status. It was built in 1959 and moved to its last location in 1967.
The history of Spud Fish & Chips goes back to 1935, when English-born brothers Jack and Frank Alger opened the first Spud in a garage on Alki Avenue. Roy Buckley, the first cook at Ivar’s Fish Bar, had originally worked at Spud, where he learned the ins and outs of good fish and chips.
After World War II, the Alki Spud was given a new building and satellite locations opened up in Green Lake and Kirkland.
Can you believe it is already the tenth week of summer? And another week means another post and three more neon signs! Today, we will reach a grand total of thirty signs, and there are still many, many, many more waiting to be discovered…
I also want to say thanks to my friend, Spencer, for photographing a few signs for me on his recent vacation, one of which will appear today.
Roberts Motors Oldsmobile; Auburn, Washington
Yes, it’s true that the last Oldsmobile rolled off the production line in 2004 and Roberts Motors sold its last car years ago, but we still have this sign to remind us of days when cars were tougher and Auburn was known as the “Little Detroit of the West.”
This sign hails from the 1950s, when the newest Olds were equipped with wildly popular V-8 “Rocket” engines. Around the same time, dealerships were popping up all around Auburn Way North, building Auburn’s reputation as the place to buy a car. Advertisements deemed Auburn the Little Detroit of the West.
The origins of Roberts Motors are unclear. It began as an Oldsmobile dealership and ended as a used car dealership. For many years the sign was well-maintained and still lit up at night, but now it is sadly deteriorating.
Wild Life Cafe; Grand Coulee, Washington
It only makes sense that the home to the Columbia River’s largest hydroelectric dam should have at least one cool neon sign. This sign, from the 1950s or 1960s, is for the now-defunct Wild Life Cafe, which was a feature of the DeLuxe Motor Hotel. This location has been Jack’s Bar & Grill for the last 10 years, but this parking sign remains. Dig those neon antlers!
Welcome Everett Inn; Everett, Washington
While this current building is less than 30 years old, my guess is that another motel once stood at this site, and this sign may have belonged to it. Between the 1930s and 1960, the northern part of the property was home to a gas station/grocery store, which served as a real estate office and later a travel agency from 1969 to 1988 after a several-year vacancy. Three buildings on the southern end of the property were houses built in 1939.
All of these buildings were demolished in 1988, making way for the Welcome Everett Inn. In 2015, three very old steel underground storage tanks were removed from the site as part of an environmental cleanup effort.
I’m not sure where this sign originally stood, but like many neon signs, it appears to be from the 1950s or 60s.
Can you believe we have already looked at the stories of 24 neon signs across Washington State? Stay tuned, as there are still many more to come!
Kent Bowl; Kent, Washington
Kent Bowl has been a meeting place for friends, dates, and leagues since 1958! Like most bowling alleys, Kent Bowl has a small cafe inside. It looks like it may have once served cocktails, too! While the inside has been renovated, the outside still looks like 1956 in the very best way. On August 19, it will celebrate its 60th anniversary with 50s prices, or 30 cent shoe rentals and 30 cent games.
Noble Palace II; Everett, Washington
Located off of Broadway Avenue in Everett is Noble Palace II, a Chinese restaurant. Like so many of these signs, there is very little information about the restaurant or its past. I think it’s safe to say that both date back to the 1960s, a time when restaurants serving anything other than American foods were viewed as interesting and exotic.
Viking Restaurant; Stanwood, Washington
We took a look at another sign from this 1960s restaurant two weeks ago. The restaurant has been closed for some time, but it is still a great place to see some Nordic 60s neon!