Seattle Now & Then Bonus: The Igloo

I took an extended pause before choosing this snapshot over another of the once popular Igloo.  (That last was written for the Pacific Magazine of March 27, 2005.  Here we may show both views of the Igloo, and one of Irene, an Igloo employee, as well.)  The view looks north across Aurora Avenue in 1942; a long and prosperous year after construction began on this roadside attraction in the fall of 1940.  Unlike the second and sharper view, here the focus is a little soft, indicating perhaps the compromises a taxman must make rushing with his or her camera through the day’s list for needed snapshots of new taxable structures.

The Igloo (actually two igloos with the conventional ice tunnel door between them) was made of steel sheeting, and their texture and “knitting” are evident in the second photo.  Also in the 1954 photo two oversized penguins on the roof seem to be running for the “good food” advertised also on the roof.  An awning has been attached above the windows with a transforming effect.  With the overhanging and circling shades the icehouse resembles two nesting eggs with eyelashes.  It is more surreal than Eskimo.

Like its longer-lived neighbor the Dog House, the Igloo was set at the Denny Way gateway to the Aurora Speedway section of the Coast Highway expecting to lure motorists while becoming a Mecca for locals as well.  Still the Igloo closed about the time that the Battery Street Tunnel opened in the mid-1950s connecting Aurora with the Alaska Way Viaduct and bypassing Denny Way and the penguins.

Readers interested in some of the humanity attached to this architectural fantasy will enjoy a visit to  One delight is Heather MacIntosh’s interview with Irene Wilson who found work and a new family at the Igloo in 1941 after the petite teenager fled a difficult step mom in North Dakota.  After this first appeared in 2005 I got a fine letter from Kim Douglas, Irene’s granddaughter.

Here follows most of that letter, and the snapshot of its shy – in some ways – subject, which Kim explains.

I’m writing this as a personal (and rather belated) thank-you to you for your March 27 “Now and Then” article on the Igloo Drive-In. I’ve enjoyed your photos and writings for years, but this one was personal, as you made mention of Irene Wilson and her interview; Irene was my grandmother.

Irene passed away in October of 2001, and she’s sorely missed by many…but she was always the same fierce, funny (sometimes inadvertently so!) woman who emerged in her historylink interview profile. I was really delighted to have the opportunity to share her with Seattle again, for a moment.

I’m attaching a photograph we found after her death–Irene in full Igloo uniform! She is, unfortunately, hiding her face, as she continued to do for the next 60 years…


We have a multitude of pictures of Grandma’s hand, or the back of Grandma’s head, or Grandma holding up a hat or a baby to obscure herself. But this is the only one of her in her carhop days that survived…hair-bow, tassled boots, and all.

Thank you again, and best wishes,
Kim Douglas

The Igloo in '42
The Igloo in '42

From 1954
From 1954
Now melted
Now melted

The Igloo, the once popular provider of Husky Burgers and ice-cold Boeing Bombers, was a lure to both motorists on Aurora and locals.   The older view of it looks north across Denny Way to the block between 6th and Aurora Avenues.  It is used courtesy of the Washington State Archive, the Bellevue branch of it where the tax photos are kept.  I took the repeat in color but divested it of it for the Times grayscale purposes.  The newer view of the Igloo is from 1954, and was recorded from the parking lot.  It is used courtesy of the Seattle Public Library.   No “now” is included of this later recording.

3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then Bonus: The Igloo”

  1. Wasn’t this location (current home to the McDonald’s of Lattes) occupied by Wright’s Coffee Shop for a number of years?

    The photo of bashful Irene Wilson is adorable! Note the big smile peeking out from behind her hand. HistoryLink essay #2267 is a wonderful memoir of her years at the Igloo. Why do I suddenly crave Hostess Snowballs?

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