Sometimes a self-portrait captures youth in its beautiful stages. This is not one of them. I was 15 and messing around with my camera and tripod at home. The mesh trucker hat – now revered once more after years of being reviled – sings praises to the kind of muffler I had installed on my first car. The snap-up plaid shirt was well worn and – quite frankly – a bit small for me even then. If it weren’t for the sweet 70s lamp in the background, this scene could be mistaken for the swinging entry doors of a saloon. I didn’t know much about composition back then.
But I sure knew how to look like the guy who delivered your paper on a beat-up BMX bike!
It’s not every day when I can look back on the Seattle I knew as a 13-year old boy.
I just happened across this video today, which is actually a 17-minute short depicting Seattle and its parks network in 1977. There are no spoken words, only an upbeat musical soundtrack. The cinematography is simple and pleasant, void of tricks or trendy angles that frequented many of the films from the period.
The storyline is also simple and pleasant.
After the sun rises over the landscape of Seattle, a quiet old man sits down on a park bench at the beginning of the movie. He shuffles his way through all the parks in the city. Street scenes, locations, and buildings familiar to Seattleites appear often – including the legendary Space Needle. Greenlake, in the north end of the city, is shown as a bustling recreational area with sunbathers, bicyclists, and runners (it’s still that way today). Freeway Park – which now stretches above and across the ribbon of Interstate 5 that runs through downtown Seattle – is shown in Phase One on the east side of the freeway only. Included are segments filmed along Alki Beach and Lincoln Park in West Seattle. There also appears to be some footage taken at Colman Playground, situated just south of Interstate 90 near its western terminus. The final pan-out takes viewers over Seattle’s skyline at sundown during the end of the film.
It’s a cute movie that is accompanied by a flute, a clarinet, and pianist Norman Durkee.
After doing some research on Durkee, I discovered that he was also responsible for the piano accompaniment on Bachmann-Turner Overdrive’s “Takin’ Care of Business;” The band was recording their album in a Seattle studio when Durkee walked through one night (story HERE); without knowing the band (and without them knowing he was a musician), Durkee recommended that they lay down a honky-tonk piano track for TCB. They asked him to do the part, which he wrote out quickly on a pizza box and recorded in one take.
The most noteworthy things to me in the video are the skyline shots. The city looks exactly as I remember it from my youth – a bold mix of trees, concrete, and really huge cars. If I close my eyes, I can smell a 1977 Seattle summer – Warm air, dust, hot asphalt, and the exhaust from a 1973 Chevy Monte Carlo in traffic. While these elements may not seem alluring, combined they contribute to how I remember Seattle as a younger man and bring back a time for me which was simpler. This movie does great job of sharing my Seattle of the past.
Here’s an excerpt of the longer video shown above:
A Seattle City Light service truck makes a visit to a view home in Seattle’s Alki neighborhood in 1968. The serviceman is wearing his lab coat and white service hat. Back in the days before cellphones, he would have been sent there by a gruff-sounding dispatcher barking over the dash-mounted Motorola radio in the vehicle. The Range Service Truck: A mid-1960s Chevrolet van – like this one – done in Utility Yellow. In the garage: A 1959 Ford Galaxie convertible.
Built in 1954, this “Mid-Century” home design is common in neighborhoods and suburbs surrounding Seattle:
The roof line and brown on the siding in the first picture are nearly identical to my suburban house – which was built in the late 1960s. Today that Alki house still stands, now with garage doors on the car port, and frankly still possessing a tremendous view:
And the radio-dispatched yellow van? Most likely retired and scrapped.
There’s something inherently cool about being able to duplicate a photograph from the past, to see what the differences are between the old and the new. I did exactly that a couple of years ago, when I came across a 1985 photo I took of myself on the Lacy V. Murrow Bridge across Lake Washington (aka “The Floating Bridge”). The shot I took back in the day couldn’t be redone, because there is no longer a sidewalk along the south side of the span. But still, it was fun to see how much things have changed.
And even since the stunning Mrs. BelRedRoad took the 2010 photo, I’ve lost 50 pounds, so change keeps coming.
When I was at the grocery store the other day, I saw two Pacific Northwest legends in the cooler near each other; Rainier and Olympia beers began life in my neck of the woods, and have been brewed for well over 100 years. Olympia was brewed originally in Washington’s state capital. The Rainier brewery’s owner even started a baseball team – the Seattle Rainiers – to advertise his product. While both brands depict legendary northwest mountains, they are now owned by Pabst and have been moved out of state.
The flavors of these beers won’t win awards, but their stature in PNW popular culture has allowed them to be the enduring kings of the cookouts.
Seattle is a place now where craft beers and international brands are readily available, especially from Mexico. Granted, many of them are good. But at one time this area was a mid-sized blue collar region where local beer labels carried hometown pride and became famous namesakes. Every region has at least one – Lone Star in Texas, Primo in Hawaii, Coors in Colorado, and even Red Stripe in Jamaica.
But in the early 1980s, no Seattle high school party was complete until the Big Red R arrived – either in keg or rack form – and righteously extracted from the trunk of a jacked-up Camaro.
The stunning Mrs. BelRedRoad shares tales of her father’s drinking “Oly” when she was growing up. They were both cheap, had generally good flavor, and depicted local mountains of notoriety. Both brands were also well known for their TV commercials (shown below). Rainier made fun of itself, professing the existence of “Wild Rainiers” and motorcycles that said “RayyyyNeeer….Beeeerrr” as it was running through the gears. They even had talking frogs long before Budweiser. Olympia – banking on the fact that no one knew what an Artesian Well was – claimed the water came from secretive Artesians that also played jokes on people.
The old Olympia Brewery closed in 2003.
The former Rainier Brewery in Seattle – now the Tully’s Coffee roasting plant and art studios – stood with its iconic giant lit red R viewable from Interstate 5. The famous R is now housed at the Museum of History and Industry.
So sing a round of Oly Oly Oh, or crack open a Wild Rainier. They may no longer be from Washington, but they still make a hometown proud!
While unpacking a box in the garage, I discovered a section’s worth of classified ads from a 1978 issue of The Seattle Times. Flipping through it got me two things: First, an artsy ad from the late-great Frederick & Nelson department store, and this article about “Romantic Lace.” When the stunning Mrs. BelRedRoad saw it next to the scanner yesterday, she was shocked. “Oh my…That’s the dress I wore to my Middle School dance in 1978.” Not surprised.
And she probably looked darned cute in it too.
The late 1970s seemed to be a time of organic color and material. America was coming off a wave of “going natural” and entering an era of tech, brighter colors, and disco. 1978 was stuck in the middle, with fabric chosen for its earthy tones but with cuts that were more dramatic, slimming, or fitted. Gone were the hippie sack dresses, but the material used to make them was still around. Lace around the edges of this dress is a good example of tapping the past to create style for the coming year.
In high school many of my female classmates dressed this way, often teetering on a pair of Candies.
The article below talks about the history of lace and how it tied into the styles of 1978. Fun reading. If you click on the picture it will expand larger for easier reading. Enjoy!
Like me, he loves to do photography on the side and still shoots film. His eye for the unusual, and penchant for documenting life’s details, makes his photostream one of my first visits each morning.
Recently he posted this gem of history from his own birthday party in 1980.
“I’m second from the right,” he states. “the one with the Santa Geoduck.”
No picture from the late 1970s or early 80s would be complete without at least one rugby shirt, and Tony delivers! The punch bowl here is classic; not only is it purple but it has some sort of gold covering as well. The purple lapels behind it also have some shiny trim, sure to attract plenty of 14-year old disco queens back in the day.
This is the kind of archive shot that was merely meant to capture an event for friends and family, but in the end became a time capsule for style and decor. This exemplifies my love for retro perfectly, in one square photo from 32 years ago.