Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have all had a day of rest, family, and delicious food! In case you are still hungry, feast your eyes on this 1950s menu from Busch’s Drive-In!

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Check Out Those Cars!

There is very little information to be found about Busch’s. Located at the intersection of 38th Street and South Tacoma Way, the building was originally a Triple XXX Root Beer. Owned by Frank Kruger, it opened in October 1936 after Kruger’s success with a smaller Triple XXX in Tacoma. Only seven years later, Kruger sold the restaurant to Bill and Thelma Busch who re-branded it, removed the rooftop barrels, and erected a huge neon sign.

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Back of the menu

Offering both dine-in and carhop service, Busch’s remained in business through at least the 1960s. A popular hangout for local youths, the restaurant sponsored local baseball teams and put floats in local parades.

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Sundaes and Sandwiches

One of this menu’s previous owners dined at Busch’s September 9, 1950 with Dorothy Nylin, Dave N, and Gil J. Apparently, it was a night to remember! That, and the Clubhouse sandwich!

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Hamburgers, Drinks, and Boring Sundaes

The menu is quite extensive, especially in the realm of beverages and sundaes. Not only did Busch’s offer coffee, but also Sanka (instant decaf), and Postum (a roasted-grain coffee substitute). Fresh fruit flavors were plentiful, including date milkshakes. With the detailed item descriptions, it wouldn’t be hard to recreate a piece of Busch’s in your own kitchen.

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Busch’s today, courtesy of Google Maps

Busch’s still stands today off at 3505 South Tacoma Way. Since 2008, it has operated as a kitchen and bathroom showroom called “Water Concepts.”

What are you waiting for? Go whip up a Pineapple-Orange Delight or Dusty Road Sundae and enjoy the rest of your holiday!

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It’s Still Summer

While the air is starting to hold faint traces of autumn, it’s still summer! We have one more week to enjoy barbeques, sandals, and vacations! It’s not too late to go out and find something like this:

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Apple trees along the mighty Columbia

This 1950s/early 60s postcard shows a lovely apple orchard with mountains and the Columbia River in the background. The photo was clearly taken from the side of a road, likely a highway. Maybe Alternate Highway 97 through Wenatchee, Entiat, and Chelan?

The back of the card acknowledges Washington’s bustling apple industry.

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COLUMBIA RIVER APPLE ORCHARD The banks of the Columbia River near Chelan and Wenatchee and up the Okanogan River to the Canadian border are lined with some of the heaviest producing apple orchards in the world.

Enjoy the last week of summer!

Oh! The Places You’ll Go Part II

Welcome back for another look through an ARCO street map from 1967! If you missed part one, you can find it here.

1. Sick’s Stadium

Baseball fans across the US have surely heard of the Seattle Mariners. Local fans, of course, know that they play home games at Safeco Field. Long-time Mariner fans will likely remember when the M’s played at the long-gone Kingdome. But long before the Mariners debuted, Seattle had a minor league baseball team called The Seattle Rainiers.

They played at Sick’s Stadium.

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Located in Rainier Valley at the intersection of McClelland Street and Rainier Avenue
(now Martin Luther King Jr. Way), Sick’s Stadium was built in 1938 for $350,000. The stadium was named in honor of Emil Sick, owner of both The Seattle Rainiers and the Rainier Brewing Company. In 1955, Fred Hutchinson (namesake of the Seattle cancer research center) became manager of the team, which had been the country’s most popular minor league baseball team based on game attendance. He left in 1956 to manage the St. Louis Cardinals, but returned three years later.

Televised baseball games caused attendance to drop, and Sick sold his team to the Boston Red Sox in 1961. He preserved ownership of the stadium. In November 1964, Sick and Hutchinson died within one day of each other. Ownership of the park transferred to Sick’s family, who chose to rename it Sicks’ Stadium, rather than the original Sick’s Stadium. The Red Sox sold the team to the California Angels, and the Rainiers were christened the Seattle Angels.

In 1967, Seattle was awarded a major league team… But only if they promised to build a bigger venue within three years. In 1969, voters passed a campaign for the Kingdome, but Sicks’ was expanded to serve as a temporary home until the Kingdome could be completed. The Seattle Pilots took debuted in the largely inadequate field.

Sick’s Stadium hosted not only baseball in the 1970s, but rock concerts and a wrestling match. It quickly fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1979, two years after the completion of the Kingdome.

Now, a Lowe’s Home Improvement store sits where Sick’s once was. The store has erected a commemorative plaque at the site of First Base.

2. Luther Burbank School for Boys

Located on Mercer Island, the Luther Burbank School for Boys actually closed in 1966, a year before the map is dated. The land originally belonged to Charles C. Calkins, who founded the community of East Seattle on the upper part of Mercer Island. He built an extravagant home for his family and an equally extravagant hotel, which guests accessed by a ride on Calkins’ steamboat.

The 1893 depression, the death of two of his children, and a house fire drove the Calkins Family from their homestead. Charles mortgaged off all he had and left the community.

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In 1890, Seattle Mayor Cicero Newell and his wife opened a parental school for boys and girls at the intersection of East Union and 35th Street. Not long after the departure of the Calkins Family, Newell leased their hotel and moved the school. Neighbors were not particularly fond of the hotel’s new use, and Newell felt that the Calkins’ property would be better suited for his school.

In 1903, local school districts were authorized by the state to create truant schools, and the following year the Seattle School District bought the Calkins homestead property. While school buildings and dorms were going up,  Newell moved 40 students (30 boys and 10 girls) to a tent on the new property. Newell served as superintendent of the new school until the completion of its first buildings.

William Baker ran the school for a short time before being replaced by teacher and house parent Willis Rand. Rand oversaw the school’s development  for more than 35 years. A hospital, barn, and laundry facility were built on the site, as was a self-sufficient farm that students tended.

The Mercer Island Parental School began taking in “morally delinquent” youths, who were required to stay at the school until they were paroled. The average stay was nine months. As many of its students came from broken homes or alcoholic parents, the school provided its students with education, emotional development, and medical care.

The school’s horticultural department was excellent. After half a day in class, students would work on the farm, tending to orchards, livestock, and their own gardens. In 1928, all female students were moved to Martha Washington School. The school changed its name in 1931, both to eliminate the stigma of parental schools as homes to delinquents and to honor the famous botanist Luther Burbank.

Rand retired in 1942, and although the school and farm continued to operate, they slowly fell into disrepair. By the 1950s, the school was overcrowded, and the buildings inadequate. A 1957 state law change mandated that the state run all Parental schools. The Seattle School District leased the land to the state but continued to oversee operations at the school.

The state had to decide to rebuild the entire campus or build a new school on state-owned land and relocate. Mercer Island had become increasingly suburban, and many residents felt that a school for delinquents was not a fit for their community. The debate continued until 1963 when a new school was recommended to be built in Preston, Washington. Echo Glen School opened four years later to 83 students from Luther Burbank and Martha Washington Schools.

Even with the school gone, debate continued on what to do with the land. In 1968, the Forward Thrust bond designated it a park. The wooden buildings on the property were burned down in 1976, but the 1928 dormitory was restored and stands to this day.

3. Snippets of Seafair

Seafair has been an integral part of summers in Seattle since 1950, and it is so popular that a few of its landmarks were showcased on this map.

Perched on the southern tip of Green Lake, the Aqua Theatre was launched the same year as Seafair. Originally the home to the Aqua Follies,  a group of performers who put on “swim-musicals”, the theatre also hosted musicals and concerts before it was mostly demolished in 1979.

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Aqua Theatre in 2010

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The second piece of Seafair commemorated on this map is one that hasn’t changed: the Unlimited Hydroplane race course!

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4. Sand Point

Now home to Seattle’s second-largest park, Sand Point Naval Air Station was an important military fixture from 1920 to 1970.

When the U.S. was entering World War I, the Navy asked Captain Luther E. Gregory to scope out a location for an aircraft base in the Puget Sound Reason. Gregory recommended Sand Point in Seattle, but the war ended before the Navy made their final decision. However, a group of veterans began lobbying the county to build an airport at Sand Point and the county began buying small farms on the site Gregory had recommended.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held June 19, 1920, and from there the development of Sand Point began.

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An air strip was built and an Army hangar was brought in from California, but the station lacked funding and could not be officially accepted by the Navy without action from Congress. On the last day of January 1921, Congress approved Sand Point as the best location for the type of station the Navy desired. More than a year later, the Navy officially secured control of the land and funding from congress. The first permanent hangar was completed in 1923 and development continued through the 20s.

With the onslaught of the Depression brought a lack of funds. Despite this, the Sand Point runway was finally paved, and the New Deal groups like the Civilian Conservation Corps helped erect more structures.

After the outbreak of World War II, Congress allotted $4 million to the improvement of Sand Point (Naval Air Station Seattle). Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Sand Point became an important hub for air traffic, plane repairs, and supplies. More than 8,000 people worked at Sand Point during the war, but by late 1945, employment dropped to 3,000.

The Navy announced that it would close Sand Point in 1950, but three months before its closure, the Korean War broke out and the station was needed once more. As it had in the years after the World War II, Sand Point was responsible for the repair and overhaul of aircraft. After the Korean Conflict ended, Sand Point resumed its regular purpose as a training base. As the naval base on Whidbey Island continued to develop, the need for Sand Point lessened. It closed in 1970.

Sand Point is now home to Magnuson Park, which features many of the station’s buildings from its early years of development.

Seafair Saturday!

I’m sure you know that today is Seafair Saturday. But did you know that fifty years ago today it was also Seafair Saturday?

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Schedule of Events Brochure

Back in 1967, Seafair was  a 12-day celebration featuring parades, sports tournaments, concerts, cultural celebrations, and, of course, hydroplane races. The festivities began on Friday, July 28th and concluded on Sunday, August 6th. In addition to all of the area festivals and tournaments, major events headlined each day:

July 28- Queen’s Coronation

July 29- Grande Parade – Bon Odori

July 30- Shilshole Seafair Fun Day – Fiesta Filipina – Bon Odori

July 31- Greenwood District Parade

August 1- Camera Day

August 2- Lake City “Gay Nineties” Festival Parade

August 3- Arrival of the Fleets – Kids’ Seafair Day

August 4- Capitol Hill District – Festival of Flags and Parade

August 5- Seafair Trophy Unlimited Hydroplane Race – Torchlight Parade

August 6- Gold Cup Unlimited Hydroplane Race

The schedule brochure flaunts Seattle’s designation as an “All-America City”, an honor it had been awarded just the year previous.

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Seafair Weekend Schedule

Some of you may remember last year, when I posted selections from the 1963 Seafair Trophy Race Booklet. In addition to the brochure excerpt above, I have selections from the 1967 Seafair Gold Cup Regatta Magazine!

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This magazine, dated Sunday, August 6th for the Gold Cup Race, features advertisements, sponsor information, and a guide to the hydros and their drivers, Let’s take a look at 1967’s Unlimited roster:

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Gale’s Roostertail weighed in at a whopping 10,000 pounds!

In addition to the roster, the magazine provided spectators with their very own scorecard!

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Keep Score from the Sidelines!

While the majority of the book is dedicated to the Unlimited Hydroplane races, several pages are dedicated to the Limited Hydroplanes which raced on Green Lake July 28th, 29th, and 30th.

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Check out the groovy ad for the Fair!

The last page I’ll share with you is the last page in the booklet, featuring the Seafair royalty:

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Kelly Waller was crowned King Neptune

Whether you’re watching the festivities from Seattle or your living room, have a happy Seafair Weekend!

Oh! The Places You’ll Go: Seattle Part I

Before the days of smart phones, Google Maps, and even Map Quest, what did you consult when you were lost? A good, old-fashioned map, of course! Often tucked in a glove box or thrown across the backseat, a trusty map could turn a lost traveler into a confident driver. But what if you consulted a map from 50 years ago? What sorts of things might you find?

Let’s find out!

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The covers feature recognizable Seattle landmarks

Distributed in 1967 by the Atlantic Richfield Company (also known as Arco), this map shows the greater Seattle area, from Tukwila to Edmonds, and West Seattle to Redmond. While many aspects of the roads and landmarks are the same, many aren’t. Part I will highlight a few spots around Seattle.

1. The Seattle Center

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Seattle Center, 1967-style!

A mere five years after the World’s Fair for which it was built, the Seattle Center had changed, but not much. Many of the buildings still stood, although they had different purposes:

  • The building that had housed exhibits for India and Korea became Youth Recreation
  • Senior Citizens Activities occupied the building left behind by Africa, Thailand, the Philippines, and the UN
  • “Show Street” was completely dismantled
  • The United Arab Republic made way for a World’s Fair Museum
  • The US Science Pavilion was christened The Pacific Science Center
  • The Christian Pavilion gave way to the Nile Temple
  • Part of the Gayway gave way to Space Needle Parking
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Seattle Center now, courtesy of Google Maps

Even today, many of the Center’s trademark buildings still exist, although with different names. The Seattle Center is also significantly smaller, as pieces of it have slowly vanished over the years.

  • “Municipal Parking Garage” is now called “Mercer Street Garage”
  • “High School Memorial Stadium” has been shortened to simply “Memorial Stadium”
  • Space Needle parking? What Space Needle parking? Try looking under the EMP
  • “Food Circus” is now the plain old “Center House”
  • “Opera House” became “Marion Oliver McCaw Hall”
  • “Arena” or “Mercer Arena” was demolished earlier this year
  • The Sky Ride was moved to the Washington State Fairground decades ago

 

2. Downtown

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Downtown 50 Years Ago

Each red box on the map represented an important structure. Here is a guide to all 44 spots:

  1. Benjamin Franklin Hotel: Demolished in 1980 for an expansion of the Westin Hotel
  2. Bon Marche: First sold in 1986, it changed its name to Macy’s in 2005
  3. Canadian Pacific Dock: It once ferried people between Seattle and B.C. Now it’s gone
  4. Central Bus Terminal: The site is under construction
  5. Chamber of Commerce:This ornate structure now houses businesses  5a. City Hall
  6. City Light Building: Now home to Expediors, a freight forwarding service
  7. Continental Trailways Bus Depot: Now a parking garage
  8. County Building: Now called King County Superior Court
  9. Doctor’s Hospital: Now part of Virginia Mason Hospital
  10. Federal Court Building: Today, it’s called US Appeals Court
  11. Federal Office Building: The Unites States Post Office occupies this site today
  12. Federal Reserve Bank: Current Home to the Washington Department of Licensing
  13. Ferry Terminal:  Also called the Colman Dock
  14. Fireboats Station: Serving you since 1902. Serving you from this building since 1963
  15. Frederick & Nelson: A new shopping center now occupies this lot
  16. Harbor Patrol Station: The Harbor Patrol moved to Lake Union in the 1960s
  17. King Street Station: Built in 1906, it was finally returned to its former glory in 2013
  18. KOMO Radio and TV Stations: Some things never change
  19. KTNT TV Studios: Present-day parking lot
  20. Logan Building: This 10-story office building was built in 1959, renovated in 2009
  21. Mayflower Hotel: Celebrating 90 years of operation in 2017
  22. McDougall’s: This department store closed in 1966 and was demolished in 1971. It is now the site of a brick parking garage and Ludi’s Restaurant
  23. New Washington Doric Hotel: Elvis stayed here while filming “It Happened at the World’s Fair” in 1962. Now home to many as the Josephinum Apartments
  24. Norton Building: Built in 1959, this office building still stands
  25. Old Armory: The armory stood from 1909-1968. The site is now retail and offices
  26. Olympic Hotel: Open since 1924
  27. Penney’s: After nearly 50 years of business, this location closed in the early 80s. The building was demolished, and replaced with the Newmark Tower a decade later
  28. Pike Place Market: Thanks to preservation efforts in the 60s and 70s, the Market remains and is a hot tourist destination
  29. Post Office: The post office still operates a branch at this location
  30. Pubic Library and Civic Information Center: The 1960 library building on the old map was replaced in 2004
  31. Public Safety Building: Now the home to Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, Seattle City Hall, Seattle City Council, and Einsten Bros. Bagels
  32. Rhodes: This branch of “Seattle’s Home-Owned Department Store” was closed in 1968 and demolished in 2005 for the WaMu Center Bank Tower
  33. Roosevelt Hotel: Hosting travelers since 1929
  34. Seattle General Hospital: Originally a hospital and nursing school, it merged with Swedish Medical Center in 1978 and moved. This building seems to have been replaced
  35. Seattle Park Department Administrative Building: Now called “Seattle Parks and Recreation Superintendent’s Office”
  36. Seattle Post-Intelligencer Building: The Seattle P-I moved from this building in 1986 and became online-only in 2009. The City University of Seattle now occupies this building
  37. Seattle Times Building: Now located in offices next-door, the Seattle Times sold their original building in 2013. Demolition started last year
  38. Smith Tower: Built in 1914, it’s the city’s oldest skyscraper
  39. Transit Service Office: Go to this location now and you’ll find a supermarket and a Starbuck’s
  40. Union Station: Today, it’s the beautifully-restored headquarters of Sound Transit
  41. Virginia Mason Hospital: Although much larger now, Virginia Mason still resides at this location
  42. Washington Athletic Club: Built in 1930, the club became a city landmark in 2009
  43. YMCA: 50 years later, this branch is still open
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Downtown Now, Courtesy of Google Maps

3. Museum of Science and Industry (MOHAI)

Planning a trip to MOHAI? Don’t use this map! If you do, you may find yourself near the University of Washington when you really need to be on the south end of Lake Union.

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MOHAI in Montlake

In 1967, MOHAI was situated in East Montlake Park off of East Park Drive. The museum opened in early 1952, displaying a collection of artifacts and photos that had been gathered since the 1910s by the local historical society.

The museum rapidly grew and expanded over the nest decade and a half, but when Highway 520 moved in, getting to the museum became more challenging. Voters who had once saved the museum from complete highway encirclement were upset by the heavy traffic through their once-quiet neighborhood and opposed subsequent museum expansion plans.

In the 1970s, MOHAI was plagued by unprofessional and unscrupulous employees. Artifacts were improperly handled, and some were even stolen. Employees who spoke up for the betterment of the museum were dismissed and/or publicly shamed. Staffing changes in the latter part of the decade pulled the museum out of the rubble, displaying more of its collections and shifting the focus of its exhibits back to local history.

In 2012, sixty years after the museum first opened, it relocated from Union Bay to Lake Union, setting up in the former Naval Reserve Training Center (also called Naval Reserve Armory).

The armory was built between 1941-1942 by the Works Progress Administration for $500,000. It operated as a naval training school during the second world war, but was decommissioned shortly thereafter. In 1946 it received renovation funding, in 1998 it was disestablished, and in 2009 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

 

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MOHAI’s Current Home

Welcome Summer!

Maybe I should have titled this post “Hurry Summer.”

Although people living in the Pacific Northwest may feel like we skipped over spring this year, today is the official first day of summer! I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than with an early 50s postcard of a southern Washington beach!

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Check out that woody!

This picture appears to be taken someplace south of the city of Long Beach, maybe at the beach located at the end of Jetty Road, near Peacock Spit. As the caption states, it shows the estuary at the end of the Columbia River from the Washington side.

Peacock Spit was named after the USS Peacock, which crashed there during a storm in 1841 while trying to enter the Columbia River.

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Here’s to a summer we can spend out on the beach with our woodies, horses, and picnic baskets!

Lake Wenatchee, 1930s

Today, I’d like to deviate slightly from the blog’s usual content and bring you a look at an image you won’t find anywhere else on the internet. Straight from my great-uncle’s photo album, check out this picture of Lake Wenatchee c. late 1930s!

I believe this specific photo was taken from the shoreline at Lake Wenatchee State Park, with Emerald Island visible on the right side.

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“Wenatchee Lake”

Lake Wenatchee (Labeled “Wenatchee Lake” in the photo album) is located 18 miles northwest of Leavenworth off of State Route 207. The glacier-and-snow-fed lake is five miles long and surrounded by private homes, campgrounds,  and a 489-acre park. Today, the park is a popular spot for all kinds of outdoor recreation–from fishing to swimming to camping–but this scenic lake has a history rooted in logging and farming.

The area around the lake was originally a resting spot for several tribes who camped, fished, and gathered berries along the shores en route to the coast for trading. in 1811, fur traders visited Chelan County, and by the end of the decade, pioneers settled in the area, clearing thick forests for farms. Logging continued as a major industry around the lake.

It was in this area that a hunter from a local tribe bragged about killing two white men, which many believe triggered the Yakima Indian War (1855-1858).

After North Shore Drive was built along the lake in the early 1920s, Lawrence Dickinson opened a gas station, store, and dance hall near where he lived with his family on Crescent Beach. It proved to be one of the most successful attempts at making Lake Wenatchee a tourist destination.

In the late 1940s and through the 1950s, the Wenatchee YMCA developed a camp on the southern end of the lake that remains in use today.

Whoo Gives a Hoot?

Whooo doesn’t love ice cream? And whooo doesn’t love sundaes, floats, and concoctions with names like “cherry phosphate” and “egg cream”? Whoo has fond memories of Owl Drug in Wenatchee, Washington?

The history of Wenatchee’s Owl Drug predates the formation of Chelan County. In 1894, only a year after the incorporation of Wenatchee, Owl Drug opened in the city’s downtown. Business boomed, and despite times of economic difficulty, Owl Drug persevered and prospered. A soda fountain was added to the pharmacy in 1926.

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This ad was featured in The Wenatchee World c. 1966

In 2001, after 107 years of business, Owl Drug fell victim to economic hardship and closed. The soda fountain remained open under the name “The Owl”, selling sweet treats and gifts. After a year of no economic improvement, The Owl’s owner decided to close permanently and liquidate all assets.

Customers and staff alike were saddened by the loss of their beloved landmark. Pam Higgins, who started working at the Owl soda fountain in 1971, didn’t want to see Wenatchee’s only soda fountain sold piece-by-piece, so she and her husband, Frank, bought it. At first they had no idea what to do with it, but at the suggestion of local business owners, they moved everything two blocks north to the Commercial Building.

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Modern postcard purchased from The Owl

Now located at 25 N Wenatchee Ave, the counter, cabinets, stools, equipment, and Hamilton Beach mixers were all purchased from the original Owl. Pam and Frank also bought the pharmacy’s original cash register and 1926 Toledo Scale Company scale. These scales are said to be the most accurate scales in existence, and this particular scale was borrowed for military use during WWII. It was shipped to Moses Lake, Washington and used to weigh soldiers before they were sent out for duty.

The Owl is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30am to 6pm, and on Sunday from 12pm-5pm.

Apple Land

Although the air may feel brisk and many areas of the country are still getting snow, Spring has officially arrived, and soon will the leaves and the flowers.

Over the next few months, events like the Tulip Festival, Daffodil Parade, and Apple Blossom Festival will celebrate the coming of spring, flowers, and warmth. And Wenatchee and its environs may start looking something like this:

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Apple Land

While I love the touristy nature of this 1950s postcard, it’s a memento of the times before the Space Needle and before the wineries when apples and apple tourism were a big deal in Washington state.

Apples first came to what is now Washington in 1826, before the organization of either the Washington or Oregon Territories. By 1889, the year of Washington’s statehood, commercial orchards were planted near rivers and advanced irrigation systems. Apple production continued to increase, and by the end of WWI Washington’s apple industry was booming. However, high production and transport costs as well as cheap (yet lower quality) apples from competitors drove the need for some sort of advertising campaign.

In 1926, Pacific Northwest Boxed Fruit formed to promote Washington apples in major markets around the country. Two years later the Washington Boxed Apple Bureau, but funding was voluntary and uncertain and by 1934, its future looked dim.

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No information on the back of this card; just a big space to write!

March 17th marked the 80th birthday of the Washington Apple Commission, the day Governor Clarence Martin signed into law the Washington State Apple Advertising Commission in hopes of helping an industry that had been hurt by the Depression. Over the next several decades, the commission researched better growing, storing, and shipping methods and developed a strong advertising campaign.

During the 1950s, advertisements praised apples for their nutrition and dental benefits, calling the apple “nature’s toothbrush”, and in 1961 Washington Apples released its first trademarked logo. In tandem with the unveiling of the logo, apple ambassadors traveled across the country to promote Washington State Apples. Throughout the 1960s and beyond, print, radio, and TV ads promoted Washington apples throughout the country. In the 1970s, Washington apples were available worldwide for the first time.

Currently, Washington is the #1 producer of apples in the United States, producing 64% of the nation’s supply.

My uncle remembers seeing a Washington Apples TV ad as a child. He thought they looked so good  that he told my grandma, “We should get some of those Washington State Apples!”

Grandma pointed to the orchard outside and said, “What do you think those are?”

If you have 30 minutes to spare, check out this Washington Apples educational film, Appleland, from 1954. Happy spring!

On the Shores of Green Lake

What is that strange concrete structure perched on the south end of Seattle’s Green Lake? It’s a staircase, it’s a set of bleachers…It’s the Aqua Theatre!

Or, at least, what’s left of the Aqua Theatre.

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The Aqua Theatre, October 23, 2010

Now just a shell of its former self, its hard to envision what the theatre looked like in its glory days. Today, it’s a popular spot for joggers, and the perfect bench for anybody wanting to rest a while and look out over Green Lake, but at its peak, it had the capacity to seat 5,582 people.

Built in a mere 67 days for the first-ever Seafair (1950), the 5,200-seat Aqua Theatre would become one of Seattle’s most popular outdoor performance venues. At a total cost of $247,000 (about $2,477,741.49 today), the Aqua Theatre was by no means a budget building, but for the next two decades its seats would often be filled to capacity for concerts, plays, and other performances.

Opening day for the Aqua Theatre was August 11, 1950 for what an advertisement described as a “flashy, splashy water spectacle”– The first-ever performance of The Aqua Follies–and it sold out. 5,200 people came to see a night of ballet, comedy, singing, dancing, and high-diving.

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Aqua Follies Ad from 1963 Seafair Booklet

Aqua Follies performances (also called “Swim Musicals”) enjoyed immense success throughout the 1950s, as did other forms of entertainment. The Summer Opera Company produced “Music Under the Stars”, concert versions of operettas accompanied by ballet. Full-length plays and musicals including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “Oklahoma!”, and “The King and I” were also performed at the Aqua Theatre to the music of a floating orchestra.

To accommodate the popularity of the shows, 382 additional seats were added in 1960. Two years later, the World’s Fair brought visitors from around the globe to Seattle and the Aqua Theatre for an array of events from musicals to a jazz festival to performances by Bob Hope. The Aqua Follies performed for 21 nights, rather than the usual 13. But along with the visitors and the success, the World’s Fair also brought new, indoor performing spaces, such as the Coliseum (now Key Arena) that were fresh, comfortable, and out of the rain.

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View from the Top

The Aqua Follies performed their last show in 1964, and the theatre began its descent into disuse and disrepair. It remained a venue for concerts, often catered toward the younger crowd. On August 8, 1966, The Northwest Battle of the Bands Championship was held at the theatre. For as little as $2 (about $15 today), a person could see Don & the Goodtimes, Merrilee & the Turnabouts, The Sonics, George Washington & the Cherrybombs, The Bumps, The Live Five, Jack Horner & the Famous Plums, Dusty Springfield,  Sam Sham & the Pharaohs, and vote for a winner!

On May 11, 1969, the Aqua Theatre hosted Three Dog Night with opening acts Spring, Jaime Brockett, Translove Airlines, and Led Zeppelin. The theatre and surrounding areas was packed. Those who didn’t have tickets perched in trees, sat atop the concessions stand, sprawled out on nearby lawns, huddled on a nearby dock (causing it to sink slightly), and crowded the stage in canoes and rubber rafts. Some even swam in the stage’s pool!

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Later that summer, city inspectors discovered that the structure was damaged and the facility was condemned. The Aqua Theatre’s last performance was on August 20, 1969, featuring the Grateful Dead.

The following year, the diving towers were removed and the demolition slowly progressed until 1979 when most of the seating was demolished and a new shell house was built.

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Top Corner

I visited the Aqua Theatre in October 2010 (I sure wish I was there August 8, 1966, instead!) It has a wonderful history board hanging on the back side, filled with information and historical pictures. The theatre itself is quite a sight to see! I’m not sure why large chunks were cut out of the structure (structural soundness, perhaps?), but the remains account for about 3 out of 7 original seating sections.

It was fun to look out at the lake and envision where the stage once was.

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For further information, and great historical images and memorabilia, I encourage you to check out these links on Historylink.org:

Aqua Theatre–Seattle

Led Zeppelin Rocks Seattle’s Outdoor Green Lake Aqua Theatre on May 11, 1969

Also, check out this great Aqua Theatre footage from the Kiro 7 Archives.

And, of course, if you ever find yourself near Green Lake, I encourage you to go see what remains of the Aqua Theatre for yourself.