Seattle loves its quirky landmarks, from the Fremont Troll to the Gum Wall. But the city is changing fast and some cherished Seattle sights are disappearing, gobbled up by head-spinning growth (the Blob on Queen Anne is gone, for example, and the Toe Truck sits parked in a museum).
We’ve put together a list of still-standing unofficial landmarks, those unprotected places that Friends of Historic Belltown spokesperson Steve Hall defines as, “places known in the community, and important to the community character.” Naturally, we’ve focused on those that kids will enjoy, so no matter how you might love it, you won’t find the Singles building (at 19th Avenue E. and E. Thomas Street) on this list.
While claims of the supernatural are probably unfounded, the Mystery Soda Machine on John Street just east of Broadway on Capitol Hill is genuinely mysterious. Even the owners of the locksmith shop that has provided electricity for the machine for at least 20 years have no idea who stocks the machine with a seemingly random assortment of sugary drinks. For 75 cents, you too can take part in the intrigue.
No landmark list would be complete without the Hat ‘n Boots. Seattle artist Lewis Nasmyth designed the structures to house a gas station in Georgetown. In the 1950s they were the most successful roadside attraction in Washington state, but their kitschy appeal wasn’t enough to draw customers off the newly completed I-5 in the 1960s. The beloved boots (and their hat) were saved when the City of Seattle recognized them as a historic landmark and moved them to Oxbow Park on Corson Avenue, where they stand today.
The family-owned Ezell’s Famous Chicken opened across the road from Garfield High School in 1984 and immediately won the hearts of locals craving its fried comfort food. Today Ezell’s is famous — nationally, thanks to Oprah reportedly having Ezell's fried chicken overnighted to her in Chicago — and locally, as its original Central District shop at 501 23rd Ave., and a handful of other regional outlets, keep on cooking for legions of fans.
Lake View Cemetery (1554 15th Ave. E.) on Capitol Hill has been a pilgrimage site for martial arts and film fans for decades. So many people visit the grave sites of Bruce Lee and his son Brandon that the cemetery provides a map on its website. Pay your respects and then pay a visit to the Wing Luke Museum, currently showing the third exhibit in a series about Bruce Lee, groundbreaking artist, philosopher and actor.
Almost as famous as Rachel the Pig, the neon mascot for the Pink Elephant Carwash has been brightening people’s days since 1951. There are more than a dozen locations around Puget Sound nowadays, but of course the original rotating sign on Battery Street near the Seattle Center is where you want to take your selfie.
Edith Macefield, the crotchety old lady who didn’t want to move from her Ballard neighborhood, became an unlikely hero for everyone who mourns the loss of Seattle’s gritty, quirky history. She refused to sell her tiny, tumbledown house near the Ballard Bridge to developers, even when they offered her $1 million. Edith lived out her life in the house (1438 N.W. 46th St.) even as a Trader Joe's and LA Fitness sprang up around her. Although the house was not actually the inspiration for the movie Up, the two are strikingly similar, and Pixar did use it for marketing. Today there’s not much left of the Macefield House. Despite the best of intentions, subsequent owners have been unable to restore the house. This unofficial landmark probably won’t be around much longer.
Dick’s Drive-In was serving Seattle inexpensive and addictive late-night burgers when McDonald's was still just an idea. It's never tried to expand beyond our region, and it's kept its prices low – Dick's is still a place kids can afford with their own money. Historically minded families will want to get their burgers at the original shop on N. 45th Street in Wallingford. More musical types will visit the Broadway location (on Capitol Hill), name-checked by Sir Mix-a-lot ( in Posse on Broadway) and filming location for Macklemore.
AJ’s Surplus in Belltown displayed a rocket fuselage to advertise its military wares from the 1950s until the building was demolished in 1991. The rocket was scheduled to be dismantled and sent to the scrap heap. Instead, it was rescued by enterprising Fremonsters, who eventually converted it into the Fremont Rocket sculpture attached to the Bitters building at Evanston Avenue N. and N. 35th Street. The businesses inside the building have changed many times, but the rocket lives on, boldly demonstrating the neighborhood motto “De Libertas Quirkas” or in English, “Freedom to be Peculiar.”
The display changes with the seasons in the front yard of the Rubber Ducky House in Seattle's Wedgwood neighborhood (near 35th Avenue N.E. and N.E. 82nd Street). The homeowners have been decorating their yard with rubber duckies since at least 2008. Swing by to appreciate the arrangement, and feel free to donate a ducky to the cause of eccentric yard art.
Around 2008, murals started appearing around Ballard. Each quixotic painting was populated by surreal animal characters and signed “Henry.” Artist Ryan Henry Ward exploded on the Seattle scene through sheer persistence. At times homeless and working for free in the early days, Henry has now sold over 2000 canvases but he still makes murals. There are currently more than 200 Henry murals around Seattle, with the highest concentration near his studio in Ballard. You can start your search for Henrys with the goldfish house at Nickerson by the Fremont Bridge, and end at Naked City Brewery in Greenwood, which also sports a Henry.
Alas, distant memory is all that’s left of Luna Park, the West Seattle amusement park that was once considered the Coney Island of the West. It closed down in 1913. But more than a hundred years later, the memory lives on in the Luna Park Café, the quirky, artifact-filled, family-friendly diner that has been serving up nostalgia and fries since 1989.
The Chinatown Gate at S. King Street and 5th Avenue S. in Seattle's International District was dedicated in 2008 following years of hard work and community fundraising by the volunteer Historic Chinatown Gate Foundation. Together with the dragon sculptures slithering up street poles along Jackson and Dearborn, also funded by a neighborhood organization rather than the city, the gate makes a colorful contribution to the unique character of the neighborhood.
Seattle may be taking on a world-class urban shine, but there is still too much funky goodness to fit in one article. What are your favorite unofficial landmarks of our region?