Requiem for the Viaduct

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.

viaduct 001
The Viaduct makes an appearance behind Seattle’s new ferry terminal in this 1960s postcard

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.

Searfair Cook.jpg
1951’s Seafair Cookbook shows a view of the waterfront pre-Viaduct

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.

A pretty view of the Viaduct from 1976

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.

The Viaduct in glowing color, 1956

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.

Soon the Viaduct will join the Kingdome as a piece of Seattle’s past


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.

Eye of the Needle.jpg
As seen by millions from the Space Needle in 1962

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.

gray line
The waterfront in 1959, via a brochure for the Gray Line


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?

Viaduct 014.jpg
Seattle gets a groovy face lift in the 1968 Tour Map

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.

city light ad
Goodnight Seattle, 1962

Everybody’s Favorite

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!

Cards 005
Perfect for hungry skiers!

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.”

Cards 006
SMITTY’S PANCAKE HOUSE Restaurant. Top of Snoqualmie Pass. Telephone (206) 434-6631. For fine family dining in the Cascade Mountains, come to Smitty’s Pancake House for seafood, steaks, chicken and sandwiches as well as Smitty’s famous Pancakes and Waffles–Pancakes and waffles served on hot plates with hot syrup–You’ll Love ’em! They’re “everybody’s favorite”!!

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:

Modern view of first Smitty’s Pancake House, courtesy of Google Maps

“Everybody’s Favorite” appears to have been their trademark, or slogan. Does anybody remember Smitty’s, and was it worthy of its title?

City of Modernity Past

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.

PostC 005


This card features a look down 3rd Street at the intersection of 3rd and Williams Avenue. Below is what this area looks like now:

Renton Now.png
Courtesy of Google Maps

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.

PostC 006
RENTON, WASHINGTON This modern city at the south end of Lake Washington is the site of one of the Boeing Airplane Company’s huge plants.

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!

Northwest Neon XII

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.



Northwest Neon XI

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.


Northwest Neon X

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.

Northwest Neon VIII

“They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway!”

When the Drifters sang these words back in 1963, I doubt they were singing about Everett’s Brodway Avenue. However, as a former stretch of Highway 99, Broadway Ave is still dotted with great neons from its past life as a major highway. Today’s post will examine bright neon signs all found along Broadway.


Everett Motel; Everett, Washington

Guarding an empty lot just down the street from Everett Community College is this gem. The motel itself was built in 1940, but its unclear if the sign is of the same vintage. I would guess that the sign probably dates from the 1950s or 60s.

The motel had undoubtedly known many owners over the decades, but four of such owners were Gloria and Orlo Williams, and Mr. and Mrs. Mel Graeber, who appear to have owned it in the 60s, maybe the 50s.  Orlo was born and raised in Everett, and he also passed away in Everett in 2009. He and Gloria owned a local real estate company that continues to this day.

Before the days of area codes, the motel’s number was AL(pine)2-0518.

The story of the Everett Motel seems to follow the same narrative as most historic motels. When I-5 opened through Everett in 1969 and flashy chain hotels became the norm, it fell on hard times, descended into disrepair, and attracted the wrong kinds of guests and residents. There are Yelp reviews for the Everett Motel as recently as 2012, the same year the motel was listed as for sale. It’s unclear when the motel was demolished, although it was sometime between 2012 and 2016.

Something unique about this sign are the little bubbles advertising the motel’s smoke shop, a fixture that stayed until the very end.



“Open Late” at Broadway Ave & California St; Everett, Washington

It’s open late! But just what “it” refers to is unclear.

These days, this neon sort of points to a Taco Bell, and sort of points down California Street. I don’t know if the sign is referring to a restaurant, a bowling alley, or perhaps a grocery store, but whatever it originally pointed out is surely long gone. The sign, however, is better maintained than most.



Ray’s Drive-In; Everett, Washington

Speaking of well-maintained neons, check out this one from Ray’s Drive-In! Ray and Ruby Campbell opened this local icon in 1962, buying a small house and tearing it down to build the restaurant. It has been family owned for the last 56 years, and is now run by the Campbells’ grandson, Jeff.

Northwest Neon V

Welcome back for the next installment of Northwest Neons! It’s hard to believe that time is well on its way to August, but there are still plenty more neat neons to come!


Dari-De-Lite; Mount Vernon, Washington

Yes, this sign is no longer a neon, but let’s appreciate it for what it was. Dari-De-Lite opened next to a Shell gas station sometime around 1950. Though all of the neon is gone from both the sign and the building, they look just about the same now as they did 68 years ago. Unfortunately, the sign is in miserable shape, but it surely still lures hungry passersby in with promises of soft serve.



Sav-Mart; Wenatchee, Washington

Sav-Mart has been known for its selection, its customer service, and I would guess it’s signage since 1962. Located off Wenatchee Ave, it is a family-owned appliance business that has somehow been able to compete against big-box retailers. Both the building and its signs still scream 1962 in a very cool way.


SavMart 2

Sav-Mart; Wenatchee, Washington

You may be thinking that this isn’t a neon, but before you make that assessment, look way at the top at the atomic spike. That part of the sign happens to be a neon, and a very special neon at that.

This space-age wonder is a Neo-Lectra, one of about 100 jack-shaped neons designed by Oklahoman Jim Henry in the 1960s. Although produced near Tulsa, there are a few samples of these signs remaining across the U.S.

While it may look small, the atomic structure is actually near 13 feet across. Neo-Lectras sold for about $1,000 a piece, which is roughly equivalent to $8,344 today.


Northwest Neon IV & Happy Birthday!

Today, there is a lot to celebrate! Not only has summer finally arrived in Western Washington, and not only is it the next installment in Northwest Neon, but yesterday was The Northwest Past’s third birthday!

Thank you to everybody who has taken the time to read, like, and comment over the past three years! With the terrible twos out of the way (and few, irregular posts) I hope year three is a great one!


Aloha Motel; Bellingham, Washington

In the glory days of Highway 99, before all sections of I-5 were complete, Samish Way served as part of a motel-lined north-south arterial through Bellingham. Coming a little late in the game, but offering many modern amenities, the Aloha Motel opened in the very early 1960s.

Sadly, in recent years, the motel became the site of methamphetamine and murder. The city voted to condemn the building in 2014, and it was torn down the following year. Controversies and permit problems have kept the lot empty, but its tropical neon lives on.



Totem Family Dining; Everett, Washington

Also located off of Highway 99 (at the intersection of Rucker Ave and 44th), Totem Family Dining has been serving great food for over 60 years. Built in 1950 as a drive-in, Totem was a hot hang-out for local teenagers. Long-time owners, Bliss and Joyce Settergren, turned the drive-in into a dine-in.

For almost seven decades, a huge cedar story pole stood at this same intersection, giving the restaurant its name. The totem pole, carved in the 1923 by the talented William Shelton, was removed in 1996 after rot was discovered. The damaged totem pole was returned to the Tulalip people, who hope to restore and someday display it.



Hillside Motel; Conway, Washington

Like the other two neons seen today, the Hillside Motel was another by-product of Highway 99. The motel’s roots go back to the early 1940s, when a gas station/grocery store began renting out rooms to travelers. A motel and restaurant were built in 1946.

Sometime in the 1950s, old barracks from Whidbey Island were brought to the site for use as additional motel rooms. Hillside began offering monthly rates in the 1960s. The prettier side of the sign, facing I-5, claims that the motel would be “back in 2010,” but it doesn’t seem like the motel was ever revived. A fire ravaged part of the vacant motel in November 2014.

Galen and Debora Johnson of Hillside Enterprises LLC applied for a permit that would allow them to build a new, three-story motel on the site. Their permit request was denied.

Parking Palace

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of parking in the city? Parallel parking? Pay-to-park lots? Dark cement parking garages?

How about a groovy parking garage-meets-shopping-center?

Meet the Parkade in Spokane, Washington!

PostC 013
Park in style!

There is no doubt that the automobile’s postwar popularity affected the US in the 1950s, but it affected Spokane, too. At this time of economic prosperity, downtown Spokane, which had been the city’s commercial hub for decades, was turning into a ghost town. As vacant buildings crumbled, they were demolished and turned into parking lots.

In 1961, a group of concerned businessmen joined together with the goal of revitalizing downtown. They hired a New-York based company (Ebasco) to assess the situation and make suggestions.

The report found that downtown suffered from deteriorating buildings, inadequate parking, congestion, and a general unattractiveness. Downtown reportedly suffered from a “general aura of drabness.”

What was Ebasco’s suggested remedy? A $26 million revitalization plan that included the removal of beautification of the riverfront, new buildings, and eight blocks dedicated to pedestrians. However, after two times on the ballot, taxpayers never approved the Ebasco Plan.

PostC 014
SPOKANE, WASHINGTON. The Parkade Plaza–shopping and parking combined with beautiful architecture–Downtown Spokane, The HEART OF THE INLAND EMPIRE.

While the entirety of the Ebasco Plan was rejected, the call for more parking and revitalization was answered in the form of the Parkade Plaza. Built in 1967 to the tune of $3.5 million, the Parkade replaced 6 crumbling buildings with parking for nearly 1,000 cars and eight shops. The dramatic structure receive an award for “excellence in use of concrete” the following year.

The Parkade proved to be popular and useful for the 1974 World’s Fair and is still in use today. Several of its revolutionary and modern features, such as sloped floors, may now be common in parking garages, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s wild design makes it unique.