Unique Seattle: The Quirks That Won’t go Away


Seattleites worry the city will lose its character if a heavily upzoned Comprehensive Plan becomes law. One commenter shuddered over Seattle becoming a wall of multiplexes and apartments saying, “There won’t be anything left that’s uniquely Seattle. Only Ivar’s, Dick’s, and the Pike Place Public Market.”

It is true that the iconic threesome tops any list of Seattle Unique. But it isn’t fair to say that adding density is going to wipe out Seattle-ness. There are many other Seattle Uniques: places and objects that define this city’s character. Here’s a sampling of one-of-a-kind features not apt to be eclipsed:

The Fremont Troll, the colossal sculpture lurking beneath the Aurora Avenue Bridge, is shown clutching a Volkswagen Beetle with a California license plate. The Fremont Arts Council sited it there to deter the presence of rodents, mattresses, beer cans and illegal activity.

Bruce and Brandon Lee gravesites at Lakeview Cemetery annually draw thousands of visitors intent on paying tribute to the celebrated father and son, both martial artists and actors.

Lenin statue, a 16-foot, seven-ton bronze of the Russian revolutionary, stands on a sidewalk plaza in Fremont. A Seattle Times editorialist once wanted it taken down. As a newcomer, he apparently didn’t know what fun the locals make of Lenin, defacing him, dressing him in odd outfits (a tutu), and rigging him with a horn that sounded when his finger was pulled.

Giant Hat and Boots, once a funky Marginal Way gas station, they now animate Oxbow Park near the Georgetown neighborhood. The 19-foot-tall hat once functioned as the station house, while the 22-foot-tall boots housed His and Her loos.

Archie McPhee in Wallingford features a weirdness of toys, games, gags, and novelties. Deep within the store’s depths lurks the Rubber Chicken Museum presided over by a seven-foot-tall specimen of that species. 

Edgewater Hotel, the city’s only over-the-water hotel, boasts a frisky rock n’ roll history. The Beetles stayed in Room 272 on their 1964 tour and famously fished from the window.

Lake Union Houseboats and floating homes anchor a picturesque lifestyle not found in such abundance (more than 500 homes) elsewhere. Most poster worthy: the four-bedroom “Sleepless in Seattle” home on Lake Union’s west side. 

Space Needle, the 605-foot tower built for the 1962 World’s Fair, provides views of two mountain ranges (Olympic and Cascade), Seattle’s Downtown, Elliott Bay, and all the voters needed to win a statewide election.

Ballard Locks, the engineering marvel that connects freshwater lakes to the seawater of Puget Sound, attracts one million visitors a year. The Locks and the Panama Canal, both finished in the early 20th Century, rank as the two-largest locks systems in the world.

Edith Macefield House is a monument to an older woman’s determination to hang onto to her modest two-bedroom home despite a developer’s $1 million sales offer. Edith died in 2008 at 86, but her home, although now boarded up and fenced off, nestles symbolically between hulking concrete structures.

Pike Place Gum Wall is a chewing gum collection that covers a 50-foot-long section of the brick wall outside the Market Theater on Post Alley. Visitors often add to the scene which sometimes includes recognizable portraits in dried sticky stuff. 

Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour takes visitors on an amusingly narrated 75-minute tour of Pioneer Square’s original streets. It’s an opportunity to see pathways and walks that were left abandoned when Seattle streets were raised a full story following the Great Seattle Fire of 1889.

That’s just a dozen of many Seattle Uniques. It’s true we’ve lost a few irreplaceables – hangouts like the Seven Gables movie theater, the 24/7 Dog House Bar and Grill, Ralph’s Grocery and Deli, and the Dahlia Lounge. But, despite those losses, Seattleites resist the city’s becoming Everywhere U.S.A. These eccentric landmarks assure us that — like Rachel at the Public Market — Seattle Unique is here to stay.

Jean Godden
Jean Godden
Jean Godden wrote columns first for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and late for the Seattle Times. In 2002, she quit to run for City Council where she served for 12 years. Since then she published a book of city stories titled “Citizen Jean.” She is now co-host of The Bridge aired on community station KMGP at 101.1 FM. You can email tips and comments to Jean at jgodden@blarg.net.


  1. In addition to the Seven Gables, I’d like to add the Harvard Exit Theater on Capitol Hill. I saw a good many films there over the years, during both their regular runs as well as SIFF. Streaming films from the comfort of my living room couch has its advantages, but nothing can replace the quaint experience of an art house, and the Harvard Exit was about as beguiling as it gets.

  2. A reader points out my error when reporting on the Edgewater Hotel. The group that was famously fishing out the window should have been “the Beatles.” (Sorry about the misspelling.)

    • Also, Frank Zappa stayed at The Edgewater and recorded the experience of throwing a line in the water and hooking a Puget Sound dogfish, which ended up in his room’s bathtub. The episode is immortalized in his song “Mudshark”.

  3. I would add our Olmsted Legacy Parks. In a remarkable bit of foresight that no longer exists in Seattle, a tremendous group of leaders commissioned the Olmsted Brothers landscape architects to create a greenbelt throughout the City. Those parks — and their vitally important big trees, include Green Lake, Ravenna, Cowen, Woodland, Magnolia Bluff, Interlaken, Volunteer, Cal Anderson, Madrona, Frink, Colman, Mount Baker, Jefferson, Seward, Hiawatha, Schmitz, and Lincoln.

    While the City has added a few more parks, it failed time and again to do The Big Things, like The Commons, the Westlake-South Lake Union park. The new Waterfront Park might eventually approach something of significance, despite having, for all intents and purposes, a freeway running through it, and utterly lacking the charming and beloved streetcar that served it so well for so long. It’s sad that some previous City Councilmembers allowed lies by Mayor Greg Nickels to permanently get rid of those historic train cars.

  4. Aren’t you forgetting Discovery Park? At 600 acres, it is Seattle’s largest greenspace, with an inspiring, visionary master plan and annual visitors from all 50 states and 38 countries. It provides scenic beauty and quiet, historic sensitivity, and natural abundance unrivaled by any park in any city.

  5. Three more:
    Second floor window at mid-stairwell, northwest corner, Kane Hall: Golden Rectangle and Fibonacci Sequence: stops you to recognize beauty and infinity.

    Middle pews, St. James Cathedral, south side of nave. Vertical column across from statue of St. Paul in golden glow: intensity, harmony and peace.

    Brass and copper elevators in Smith Tower: dissociation and splendor.


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