Vanishing Seattle

Roadside Seattle

Before mass transportation, before television, before homogenization, Walmart, McDonald’s, Denny’s, Target, and Kmart, there existed a diversification of businesses, restaurant, shops and mom and pop grocery stores. The architecture was different in each city, using the vernacular of the area and the materials that were easily accessible in that locale.

Seattle’s architecture was influenced by its early settlers who brought ideas with them from back East and also from Europe. Some parts of Seattle had Scandinavian influences, like Ballard. Some elegant homes from the turn-of-the-century, like on Queen Anne and Capitol Hill, reflected upper-middle-class affectations from the East Coast.

Seattle, like the rest of the country, has changed. Franchises have taken a hold and many small businesses have closed. Seattle is in danger of losing many of the buildings, shops, icons and neighborhoods that make Seattle, well, Seattle.

The most enduring icon in Seattle right now is, of course, the Space Needle. Many people don’t know that the Space Needle is privately owned. Can you imagine, owning the Space Needle? Luckily, a few years ago it was given official landmark status, so any further changes that the owners may want to make must be approved by the City of Seattle Landmark Commission.

The Space Needle was built for Century 21, the World’s Fair of 1962. Some people say that the fair was the turning point for Seattle, going from sleepy parochial backwater to a major metropolis and Pacific Rim player, but I’m not sure if that was it. I tend to think the change came with Microsoft, Starbucks, “Most Livable City” proclamations and Nirvana, but whatever it was, there’s no going back now.

To read more about the the Seattle World’s Fair and the Century 21 Exhibit, click here to visit HistoryLink:

Century 21 — Seattle World’s Fair

Seattle Icons & Roadside Attractions

Seattle has a few famous icons, but it also has some more obscure signs and buildings, things that may not necessarily be on the main roads or famous outside the city or even outside of a particular neighborhood, but nevertheless, adds to the fabric, character and color of our town.
Elephant Car Wash and the Elephant Super Car Wash sign has been a landmark on Denny since 1955.


Wallingford Wall of Death
“The Wall of Death”, an outdoor art installation, is located under the University Bridge in Wallingford.


U-Haul “Space Needle”
I love this, a fake Space Needle! Actually, the sign for the Renton U-Haul on Rainier Avenue South.
Sound Garden at NOAA

“A Sound Garden,” created in the early 1980s by Doug Hollis, is located on the grounds of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, at Sand Point. I have heard that it hasn’t been accessible to the public since 9/11, but is still visible from behind a fence. Supposedly the band Soundgarden took its name from this sculpture.
The Fremont Troll

“The Troll” lives under the Fremont Bridge. The result of a contest by the Fremont Arts Council, a team, headed by Steve Badanes was voted the overwhelming favorite. It’s constructed from rebar, wire and two tons of ferroconcrete. And yes, that’s a real Volkswagon it has there in its hand!


Zymogenetics “Steam Plant”

Built from the old Steam Plant on Lake Union, the building itself was nominated for a historic landmark designation. When the plant was converted to offices, the giant stacks were not needed. Because of the building’s landmark status, the stacks were put back on, though their present function is strictly decorative.


Ivar Haglund

Haglund was a quintessential. He started out as a folk singer, but then opened an aquarium and a fish and chips stand in the 1930’s. In 1946 he opened the “Acres of Clams” restaurant on Pier 54. He was a great Seattle booster, hosted fireworks over Elliot Bay and even bought the Smith tower for a million dollars. He became a very beloved Seattle character. His publicity stunts, pranks, songs and restaurants have endeared him to Seattleites and he’s added greatly to Seattle’s unique character as a city. Ivar died January 30, 1985.


The P-I Globe

Whenever I see the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s globe spinning high over Seattle, I’m filed with pride. Like Seattle really IS the center of something cool, like we’re important in the world. the Center of the Universe. See! We have a world spinning on our (former) newspaper building. The world really DOES revolve around us!


Waiting for the Interurban

William Byers’ most beloved statue “Waiting for the Interurban” in Fremont. Everyone loves this piece of art. It’s dressed up for birthdays, holidays, football games, or just for the fun of it.
Northgate Mall Totem Pole

The long-ignored totem pole at Northgate Mall was removed after Simon bought the property. What do they know of totem poles?

Totem Poles of the NW from Wikipedia

Totem Poles of the Great Northwest
from the Manataka American Indian Council


International District

Cool ventilator shafts for the transit tunnel station across the street from Uwajimaya in the International District. Uwajimaya is a landmark in itself for those seeking fresh fish, and Asian delicacies of all kinds. It’s a great place for a field trip for those raised only on American food….
Lenin in Fremont

An American teaching in Slovakia, Lewis Carpenter, found the statue lying face-down after is was toppled during the 1989 Revolution. He mortgaged his house, bought the statue and brought it back home. He died in 1994 and the statue is on loan to The Republic of Fremont for display and also for sale.

The statue is still quite controversial. For more details, go the the official Republic of Fremont website.


Black Sun

Isamu Noguchi’s “Black Sun” is located at the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park. The granite sculpture was installed was carved in Japan and installed in place in 1969.

This landmark is said to be the inspiration for Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”.


Hammering Man

“Hammering Man” was installed in 1992 in front of the downtown Seattle Art Museum. It was created by Jonathan Borofsky and is 48 feet high and weighs 26,000 pounds.

Even though we consider this a Seattle icon, he’s actually just one of many, as the artist made several and there are Hammering Man’s in LA, Japan, Germany and N.Y.

“Hammering Man” hammers silently 4 times a minute, from 7am to 10pm every day.

One may not want to stand under it, however, as I think it fell over a few years ago. One Labor Day, a group of artists also attached a temporary Ball ‘n’ Chain.


Pike Place Market & Starbucks

Pike Place Market and the World’s First Starbucks (not to mention flying fish, a beloved piggy bank, buskers, fresh fruits & vegetables….)

The Market was almost torn down in the 70’s but thanks to the community activism of Victor Steinbrueck, it was saved from the wrecking ball and has gone on to become one of our most favorite places to visit. Lot’s of artisans, quirky shops and Danny Eskanazi’s Giant Shoe Museum.

And don’t forget the WORLD’S FIRST STARBUCKS. Yes, folks, the world domination of the $5 a drink coffee market started here at Pike Place. It’s located at 1912 Pike Place.


Lincoln Toe Truck

Though Lincoln has been sold to another company, the owners of the original Toe Truck have donated it to the Museum of History and Industry.

For more on the Toe Truck and its ultimate destiny, read Eric Lacitis’ article in the Seattle Times, “These Little Piggies to Museum”.


Fremont Rocket

The Fremont Rocket was moved from a defunct surplus shop in Belltown, and local Fremont artists added metalwork, paint, neon and a mural of clouds and galaxies. The rocket was erected in 1994 and soon became a fond meeting and gathering place in Fremont, and helped bolster its claims to be the “Center of the Universe”.


Experience Music Project — EMP

Paul Allen’s ode to popular music. Designed by Frank Gehry, a swoopy aluminium-clad building. Unbelieveable it was even built. Reminiscent of a broken guitar. I think it’s cool.


The Smith Tower

When I was growing up, I thought this was the Empire State Building. Turns out it was the tallest building West of the Mississippi for many years. The Smith Tower was locally famous for having copper-clad elevators with live elevator girls. I think those elevator operators are still there. The top floor is the Chinese room and the very top, in the pyramid, is someone’s home, designed by Jim Castanes. They charge $6 now to go to the top. A bargain, compared to the Space Needle….

Great photos & info about the Pyramid Residence (The “Lighthouse”), designed by Jim Castanes.

Photo from Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau


Ye Olde Curiosity Shop

Has this changed or have I? As a kid, I remember it filled with all sorts of awesome curios and oddities. Now, it just seems full of junk made in China. But Sylvester, the dried mummy found in the desert with a gunshot wound, is still there.


Spud Fish & Chips

Some people still can’t go to Green Lake or Alki without stopping at Spud for fish and chips.

Here’s a great article from the Seattle Times: “The Spud Sprouts” by Paul Dorpat.


The Blue Moon Tavern

An unofficial landmark in the University District since 1934, it’s been saved from the wrecking ball, at least for now. This place has been a hang-out for Beat poets and generations of UW students, intellectuals and rabble rousers. Read Walt Crowley’s article at HistoryLink.


Top Pot Doughnuts

Forget Krispy Kreme. This is the new donut. Small batches made with high-quality ingredients here in Seattle. Two brothers, Mark and Mike Klebeck, have stumbled upon a winning combination of great donuts, good coffee, and cutting-edge/retro architecture to attract a devoted clientele of donut & coffee lovers from around the area. Like roadside attractions of yore, the Wedgwood Top Pot sports a gigantic plaster donut and palm trees (shades of Mad, Mad World) to attract attention. Combine that with the delicious smells emanating from the old recycled gas station, and you’ve got lines around the block on Saturday and Sunday morning.
The Broadway Steps

Jack Mackie is the man behind the steps in the sidewalk. The project came about because the city was moving electrical wires underground along Broadway and had to tear up the street. Mackie poured concrete around a bronzed shoe print, then scraped the wet concrete from around the edges with an instrument the size of his thumbnail. Broadway Steps from the Seattle P-I.


“Vanishing Seattle” by Clark Humphrey

Though Seattle is still a young city, growing and changing, much of its short past is already lost-but not forgotten. Generations of Seattleites have fond memories of restaurants, local television shows, stores, and other landmarks that evoke a less sophisticated, more informal city. This new book explores Seattle at a time when timber and fish were more lucrative than airplanes and computers, when the city was a place of kitschy architecture and homespun humor and was full of boundless hope for a brighter future. These rare and vintage images hearken back to the marvels of the 1962 World’s Fair, shopping trips to Frederick & Nelson and I. Magnin, dinners at Rosellini’s, dancing at the Trianon Ballroom, traveling on the ferry Kalakala, rooting for baseball’s Rainiers, and local personalities including Stan Boreson, J. P. Patches, and Wunda Wunda.


Do you like unusual places, things, buildings and homes? Please visit:


Eccentric Seattle by J. Kingston Pierce

Tie-in book to a City of Seattle Channel series of videos, highlighting some of the strange and unusual characters in the city’s history.


Lost Seattle by Ross Ketcherside

Probably the loss that looms largest in our collective memories is of the Twin Teepees on Aurora, right across from Green Lake. Everyone knew there was a fire there, but who would have ever dreamed the owner would tear it down? He claimed he couldn’t get permits to repair it and the City was moving too slowly for permits so, before anyone could do anything, wham, it was gone.

Another loss on Aurora (with additional stores on Rainier Ave. S. and in White Center) was Chubby & Tubby. Discount Xmas trees, jeans, discontinued items, camping and fishing gear, utilitarian household items and more. I read somewhere that the owners children didn’t want to take over the business so, instead of selling to to someone else, they just closed down.


Hat n’ Boots

It’s not actually gone. But it’s been moved and  restored at Oxbow Park in Georgetown, thanks to the tireless efforts of volunteers. Hats off to Starbucks, Hampton Inns,and the Seattle Foundation for their generous support of this restoration.

Bob Murray’s Dog House Restaurant, founded in 1934. A great place to get a crab louie with Thousand Island dressing or breakfast anytime. Dickie Dickerson at the fabulous Wurlitzer organ for your evening entertainment. The waitresses were all union. The liver and onions was the house special. We actually had our wedding rehearsal dinner there.

All Roads Lead to the Dog House!


The Grandma’s Cookies sign loomed over Lake Union on top of the factory, and we loved how the red sign glittered over the lake. Old-timers will also remember Sunny Jim smiling at us from 6th Ave. South and the cows in front of the Darigold Dairy building on Rainier Avenue South as perfect examples of period advertising signage, now long-gone.


Endangered Seattle: Historic preservation? It’s just so yesterday.



Wonder Bread Sign (now restored to the new building on its old site)

East of the waterfront, up on South Jackson Street, past the International District and at the base of a steep hill in the Central area, looms a giant red Wonder Bread sign. A lonely piece of Americana, the neon sign is perched atop a shuttered bakery in a neighborhood of boarded-up stores and has become a lightening rod for controversy in this Seattle Central Area neighborhood.

New York Times Story on the Wonder Bread Sign by Sarah Kershaw


Esoteric Seattle

Seattle has its share of the odd and unusual, the esoteric. Visit Don Glover’s Esoteric Seattle page and explore some of the strange, fun, bizarre, and different locales in the Seattle area.


Florist Shop Elephant

This elephant has been located at this location in the 8800 block of Aurora Ave. N., since 1964, when it was moved from the building next door.

Now, it advertises the Aurora Rents hardware shop instead of flowers. No, it’s not in the same league as Twin Teepees, but it’s still pretty cool, and we’d miss it as we drove down Aurora, which is looking more and more like Anywhere, USA.


If you are you interested in historic preservation, there are several local organizations that offer education, resources, classes and tours.

Historic Seattle (Seattle architecture)
Museum of History and Industry (NW History Museum)
History Link (Online History Resource)
For an excellent article on the Aurora Florist shop elephant and other vanishing Seattle landmarks, please see Susan Paynter’s article in the Seattle Post-Intellgencer: “Another Seattle roadside attraction is heading for extinction.”


Check out Roadside Peek for even more photos of Seattle and Northwest icons, signs and vernacular architecture.


A Seattle Lexicon: Pop History, Rock to Zero Dock. A great collection of photos, memories and links from Steven E. Callihan.


Mark Jackson’s incredible collection of roadside oddities and eccentric places.


Unusual Homes. Amazing Architecture. Strange Places.
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Video clips culled from the Roadside America vault. Interviews with the Immortals of Tourism, treasured 16mm home movies, and scary moments captured on hi-8mm and digital video


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Marlow Harris
International President’s Circle

Windermere Real Estate

Business: (206) 329-3795