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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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.”

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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?

Fun, Fun, Fun

Welcome back to a new month and a new category! I spent last weekend in Chelan, Washington at an event that uniquely celebrates the state’s long love affair with hydroplane racing. For today’s post, I thought I would share the event with you as the first post in a fourth category: Events.

For the last 8 years, the City of Chelan, Kent’s Hydroplane & Raceboat Museum, and many other sponsors have hosted a weekend of vintage cars, boats, and hydroplanes in early October. Dubbed “Mahogany and Merlot“, it’s a chance to check out vintage watercraft and support local wineries.

The Backdrop for the Weekend

Saturday was scheduled to be a full day of hydroplane action and classic car and boat shows, but strong winds kept the hydros in the pits. As consolation, access to the pits was open to all at no charge. This allowed us to get up close and personal with all of the hydroplanes in attendance: Unlimited, Limited mid-size, and the smallest Limiteds.

Limited Hydroplane

We also stood face-to-face with this interesting old building. Anybody know what it was used for back in its day?

What am I?

Despite the disappointing weather, the Antique & Classic Boat Society put on a neat display of beautifully-restored boats dating back as far as the 1920s. Spectators could vote for their favorite boat at a nearby table.


Up in the parking lot, a small group of classic cars had parked, including this unique convertible hardtop, the Ford Galaxie Skyliner:

Don’t sneak your buddies in this trunk!

Sunday morning brought beautiful, windless weather and breakfast at a Chelan landmark with a great neon sign.

Sixty Years of Tasty Breakfasts

The Apple Cup Cafe opened the same year as the Chelan hydroplane races it was named for. For more information on the Apple Cup races, please visit my post here.

Down at the lake, most of the historic boats had already departed and the first of the Unlimited hydros were going into the water. Several wouldn’t start. Many coughed and sputtered. Some had to be towed back from the far end of the course, but eventually all Unlimiteds in attendance made at least one lap. The following hydroplanes made an appearance:

U-77 Miss Wahoo

Miss Wahoo made her debut in 1956 and took second place in the first Apple Cup race. She won several races in the late 50s and took fifth place in the final Apple Cup before rolling over during the 1960 Seafair Trophy Race. Bill Boeing, the boat’s owner, had Miss Wahoo repaired, but retired her at the end of the year. In 1963, she was sold and won her first three races under the new name of Miss Exide. She was sold once more, renamed Miss Budweiser, and destroyed in a 1966 collision.

Miss Wahoo was built from the same plans as Miss Thriftway, Shanty-I, and Miss Spokane. The Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum in Kent used the original plans to build a Miss Thriftway replica. When Bill Boeing’s son saw it, he lamented that Miss Wahoo no longer existed. The museum responded by building this life-sized replica, who debuted at the Seafair Chevrolet Cup alongside U-787 Salute to Seafair.

Oh Boy! Oberto

This pepperoni-powered hydro started out as 1960 Miss Lumberville from Detroit, Michigan. She has been restored and repainted to look like the 1975 Oh Boy Oberto, the first hydroplane Oberto sponsored. This particular hydro starred in the 2005 film Madison.

U-40 Miss Bardahl

Ole Bardahl, owner of Bardahl Manufacturing Co., sponsored the U-4 hydroplane in 1957. He loved it so much, that he commissioned his own hydroplane, built the following year. Dubbed “The Green Dragon”, Miss Bardahl made her debut at the Apple Cup with Chelan native Norm Evans at the wheel and took first place. She won several more races, encouraging Bardahl to upgrade her engine. An accident and unlucky year in 1959 was not enough to stop Miss Bardahl from coming back for one more successful year. Bardahl replaced her with a new model in 1962.

U-22 Breathless III

Breathless III never actually existed, but is rather a work-in progress by Mitch Evans, the son of famed hydroplane racer Norm Evans. The end goal is to re-create the 1954 splendor of “Birch & Blue, 22”, the original Breathless.

1973 Pay n’ Pak

This Pay n’ Pak hydroplane has been lauded as one of the most successful hydroplanes in the history of hydroplane racing. It was the first sccessful hydroplane of the “pickle-fork” design, which was the trailblazer for the look of modern hydroplanes. Known as the “Winged Wonder”, it was the first hydroplane to use aluminum honeycomb building materials and a horizontal stabilizer.

After three very successful years, it raced as Atlas Van Lines for one year, again as Pay n’ Pak, and then as Miss Madison. In all, the 1973 Pay n’ Pak raced for 14 years before retirement. It spent some time in a warehouse before its sale to the Hydroplane and Raceboat museum, who restored it.

Oberto and Miss Wahoo

Although posters for the event advertised hydroplane races, there were no actual races. Rather, the historic hydros took out passengers for paid rides. The Limited hydroplanes simulated a race, and two outboard racing boats from the 1910s jetted around the course.

Limited race simulation

If you love vintage hydroplanes, mark your calendars for next October! You’ll be glad you did.


Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along

People all over North America are familiar with Red Robin restaurants. Everybody knows about their big burgers, cartoon mascot, and secret French fry seasoning. But what many people don’t know is that the first Red Robin opened in Seattle.


The 1,200 square foot building, located by the south end of the University Bridge at 3272 Fuhrman Avenue East, was erected in 1916. In 1943, it opened as Sam’s Tavern.

Sam, the tavern’s owner and namesake, sang in a barbershop quartet. He loved the song “When the Red Red Robin” so much that he changed the same of his tavern to “Sam’s Red Robin.”

Exterior, February 16, 2010

In 1969, Gerry Kingen, the son of local restaurant owners, bought the Red Robin Tavern. He continued to run the establishment in the same spirit as Sam, serving up booze, popcorn, and sandwiches to university students and local houseboat inhabitants.

Four years later, the Red Robin briefly closed for a remodel. In addition to building a deck on the back of the building, Kingen added burgers, fish & chips, and steak to the menu. Large wooden electrical cable spools with a layer of thick resin on top served as tables.

When the restaurant reopened, business tripled. In response to the success, Kingen opened another location in Northgate.

Front Entrance with Stained Glass Window

In 1979, two Red Robin regulars opened the first Red Robin franchise in Yakima, Washington, and the following year Red Robin opened a location in Oregon.

As for the building on Fuhrman Avenue? Sadly, unlike most locations posted here, the original Red Robin no longer stands. Only a few months after my February 2010 visit, this location closed, citing expensive maintenance. The 98-year-old building was demolished August 28, 2014.

Old Mascot?

Now an empty parking lot, the future of the site is uncertain. It appears that the most popular suggestion is to build multi-story apartments.

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Courtesy of Google Maps

The demise of the building can actually be traced on Google Maps street view, which shows the slow regression from 2008 to 2015. The 2015 view shows the old flooring still in place, as well as the old sidewalk.

Hardwood and Brick Flooring, 2010

While the decor was fairly mainstream Red Robin when I dined there, the building had a character unique to this specific location. Wood-covered walls, stained glass, and the smallest bathrooms known to man were just some of the features that made this location a true dining experience despite the standard menu, furniture, and glass-covered sun room.

Custom Stained Glass

Interestingly, a new Sam’s Tavern has opened up in Seattle. With locations in Capitol Hill, South Lake Union, and Redmond, its about page credits Sam’s Red Robin as its predecessor.



A Northwest Valentine

In the early 1950s, Vera Dyar and her husband moved from British Columbia to a 160-acre plot of land just outside of Enumclaw, Washington. Over the next several years, the Dyars built up their ranch and turned the pond into a lake. After Mr. Dyar’s death, Vera found that things were just too quiet around the ranch and began using it as a site for friends’ weddings, complete with honeymoons in her two-room guest house.

In the late 60s or very early 70s, Vera (better known as Lady Dyar) began advertising her homestead as a wedding spot named Little Lake Ranch, and business boomed.

Ring bearers?

In 1972, Lady Dyar invited a reporter from the Associated Press to attend a wedding. The short article produced appeared in newspapers from Georgia to Iowa to Texas throughout the spring and summer of that year. The article described Lady Dyar as “a woman who ‘just liked seeing people get married’.”

“‘I’m not really Lady Vera or Lady Dyar,'” she told the reporter. “‘I’m not a lady, just Mrs., but people have always called me Lady and I’m used to it. But isn’t this marvelous?'”

The price of a wedding was  $60 (about $344 today) and up, depending on the size and type of wedding. Couples were responsible for providing their own minister. What kinds of amenities did Little Lake Ranch have to offer? According to the article, the ranch offered a view of Mount Rainier, a dreamlike setting, and animal witnesses, namely geese, peacocks, swans, ducks, and cows.

About four years and 500 weddings later, the ranch was once again the subject of a short Associated Press article, appearing in newspapers around the state. By this time, Lady Dyar had married Gale Zerba, a man who had worked as a groundskeeper for the Dyars when Mr. Dyar was still alive.

Now dubbed Wedding Wonderland, the ranch provided much more than just a location for the wedding party. Lady Dyar also arranged the flowers, colors, food, entertainment, and contracted a photographer and minister. Prices were also raised, ranging from $100 to $1,000 (about $420 to $4,200 today).

“‘I like the excitement, the loveliness of the bride,'” Vera told the reporter. “‘I get caught up in the emotions of the parents and brides and often feel tears in my eyes.'”

Wedding Wonderland was still advertised as a venue for unique weddings. A couple could get married by the lake and waterfall, in a canoe, side-by-side on horseback, in a horse-drawn buggy, in the barn, while wearing turn-of-the century garb, or in next to nothing.

WEDDINGS AT LITTLE LAKE RANCH. LADY DYAR. TA 5-3879. 5 miles east of Enumclaw, Wash. Have your outdoor wedding held in a jewel-like setting amidst tall firs, strutting peacocks, magnificent floral baskets. All this and more beside a shimmering 14-acre lake. Every Bride’s Dream. Indoor weddings and catering also available. Very Reasonable rates. Where Mom got married to Mike.

So, where exactly was Little Lake Ranch? The 1972 Associated Press article begins with an interesting set of directions:

“…Drive past the city dump, the pickle factory, and Pete’s swimming pool and then up a dirt road and straight into the forest to a secluded wedding haven called Little Lake Ranch.”

But not necessarily in that order. At least not in 2017. The roads may have been changed in the last 45 years, but if you approach via Highway 410, you would pass the pool, the abandoned factory, and then the dump before driving off into what was once a wooded wedding wonderland.

Overhead view via Google Maps with labels

Besides the treasure hunt it led me on during my research, what is perhaps the most wonderful thing about this set of directions is the inclusion of local landmarks that are now simply memories.

First opened in 1935, Pete’s Pool was an enlarged pond complete with a fountain and grand log lodge. Now the Enumclaw Expo Center Field House, the pool has been paved over and sports fields have been built. Ironically, the lodge is now a popular wedding venue.

Established in 1944, Farman’s Pickles was located on the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and Pickle Factory Road (Now Farman Road). Known for their consistent quality and “King Pickle” character, Farman’s sold to Nalley’s Fine Foods in 1987 and production was moved to Tacoma.

The last mention of Little Lake Ranch I was able to find in a news article was in a Seattle Times piece from 1993. Lady Dyar estimated that more than 5,000 weddings had been held at her ranch over the past 20 years.

While it does not appear that Little Lake Ranch is still in business as a wedding site, a quick drive on Google Maps revealed this gem at the entrance to the property:

“Little Lake Ranch, 440 SE, Around Corner”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you are all having a day filled with food, family, and fun! In honor of the holiday known for its feasting, I thought I’d share this 1970s postcard of Roy’s Chuckwagon, a buffet with 11 locations scattered across Washington.

From Bellingham to Chehalis to Spokane

I couldn’t find very much information about Roy’s, apart from a few addresses and some mentions in newspapers and obituaries. Roy’s may have had it’s start in Baker, Oregon as “Roy’s Pancake Corral and Chuckwagon.” It appears that the first Chuckwagon restaurants in Washington opened in the 1960s. They enjoyed some popularity in the 1970s, and some locations stayed open into the 1990s. They were often popular gathering spots for local service and Bible clubs.

The restaurant was also sometimes called “Roy’s Western Smorgasbord” or “Roy’s Western Smorgy.” Some past locations include:

Chehalis: 50 NE Meridian Street

Pasco: 1315 N 20th Ave

Richland: 6699 Columbia Park Trail

Walla Walla: Inside the Big Y Shopping Center

Whoever owned this postcard previously ate at the Auburn location in 1974.

COME ‘N GET IT! Western Style Family Buffet. “Eat all you want” Specialties: Baron of beef–Ham–Fried chicken–Salads galore–Dessert–Beverage. “We Love Kids!” ROY’S CHUCKWAGON

The Walla Walla location appears to have opened in early 1967. Advertisements for this location reveal that the restaurant was open for lunch (11AM to 2PM) and dinner (4:30-8:30PM), and served a “complete new menu every day!” Roy’s prided itself for serving delicious food at a reasonable price, and interestingly, children’s prices depended on age: 10 cents per year up to age ten (ten cents to $1; about 72 cents to $7.24 today). An adult dinner cost $1.95 (about $14 today).

Whether you’re enjoying Baron of Beef, ham, fried chicken, or turkey today, have a great Thanksgiving!

Fair Weather

Spring has officially arrived, and in many cities around Washington, it’s felt a bit more like August than April. Seattle beat a heat record Monday with a sweltering 89 degrees!

54 years ago today, the temperature was a comfortable 64 degrees, perfect for the opening day of the 1962 World’s Fair.

Although the Needle had been painted white in 1968, these matchboxes seem to commemorate its original galaxy gold glory.

In honor of opening day, I have a pair of 1970s matchboxes from the Space Needle restaurant, which was then operated by Western International Hotels. The boxes are small, only a few inches high, and filled to brim with tiny matches…

Gold-tipped matched! How much classier could it get?

… with gold heads!

The front of the matchboxes feature a white silhouette of the Space Needle, prior to the 1982 addition. The back features a logo and a telephone number for reservations.

The restaurant, originally named “The Eye of the Needle”, welcomed its first visitors to a gala on March 24, 1962, before the fair even opened. Located at a height of 500 feet, it was the second revolving restaurant in the world. Its floor, powered by a 1 horsepower motor,  made a complete rotation once every hour. Imagine the surprise some diners felt when they left their handbags on the windowsill!

Got a match?

Today, the restaurant is called “Sky City”, and it features a menu of local ingredients. The floor, now powered by a 1.5 horesepower motor, makes a complete rotation once every 58 minutes. Although still considered fine dining, the dress code is much more casual than it was 54 years ago.

The “Lunar Orbiter Dessert”, a brownie sundae topped with strawberries served surrounded by dry ice, is the only menu item remaining from the fair.