Seattle Now & Then: The Seattle Speed Bowl

THEN: The Seattle Speed Bowl, which was actually in what is now Edmonds, opened for midget racing in 1936.
NOW: Looking fit at age 87, midget-car racer Mel Anthony, inducted into the Golden Wheels Hall of Fame in 2002, stands at Edmonds’ 82nd Avenue West a few yards south of 230th Street Southwest.

After the high bridge over Fremont was dedicated in 1932, Aurora Avenue became the centerline for a wide and long swath of car culture with auto dealers, parts stores, drive-ins for burgers, drive-ins for movies, and more than one race track.  By the figuring of both collector Ron Edge, who lent us this subject, and the by now legendary racer Mel Anthony, this is the first day of racing at the Seattle Speed Bowl.  It opened in 1936 and that’s the date penned on the print.

Anthony, posing in the “now” at the uncannily fit age of 87, first raced here as an adolescent on his big tire bicycle.  He snuck onto the track – the gate was open – and boldly pumped passed a slow-moving grader only to be swallowed and upset in one of the tracks steep turns by sticky bunker oil applied moments earlier.  The operators of both the grader & the oiler enjoyed his fall and laughed.

Through the years Anthony’s wit has made him many friends, and gained him a unique “Sportsman Trophy” in 1950, while his dare-do both won races and put him in hospitals.  Mel always healed and, for our considerable delight, proved to be a very good narrator.  His book “Smoke Sand and Rubber” is packed with stories about racing and pictures too.  The book can be sampled and/or ordered here.

Before this track closed with the Second World War, Anthony competed on its oval in a 1939 Seattle Star Jalopy Race.  He explains “I was 16 and in the lead and then everything fell off.”

After returning from the war in 1946, Anthony raced the regional circuit until 1955.  I remember reading about his midget class exploits while I, an adolescent, was delivering Spokane’s morning paper, the Spokesman Review in the early 50s.  Anthony notes “In Spokane they gave us a lot of INK.”

Recently “Methanol Mel” returned to the track, and so far has remarkably won every midget race he has entered.  Jean Sherrard, who posed Mel in the “now,” describes him as a “wonder of nature and great testimony for genes, very good ones.”  Mel explains,  “Ten or fifteen laps for me now and my tongue is hanging out.  No fool like an old fool.  I have to be very careful.”

WEB EXTRAS

Mel holds up a photo of his current midget racer
Number 12

Paul, there are some remarkable additions to this week’s Now & Then.  Ron Edge has sent us some chunky PDFs of materials he scanned from the early days of midget racing in the northwest.  I’m posting only one of several items here today: The Midget Auto Racing Annual from 1946, the cover of which appears below.

More of Ron’s amazing scans to come, when I figure out how to override the 2 mb limit on our blog server.

UPDATE

The 2 meg limit has been cracked.  Please see below for Ron’s classic PDFs of midget racing history.  (Cautionary note: a couple are pretty large files, and may take time to download if you have a slow server.)

Click to download the 1946 Midget Annual (2 MB)
Click to view complete PDF (6 MB)
Click to view complete PDF (10 MB)

Anything to add, Paul?

Just a wee thing Jean – a now-&-then of a few years past.  You may remember that the above story was begun with a mention of how the George Washington Bridge – AKA Aurora  Bridge – opened up Aurora to its car and speed culture.  Here follows the story from opening day, a picture of the same, and another photo of the bridge from its south end taken early in its life.

GEORGE WASHINGTON MEMORIAL BRIDGE 1932 DEDICATION

One of the great spectacles to have ever been staged here occurred on the six-lanes of the George Washington Memorial Bridge for its dedication on the sunlit winter afternoon of February 22, 1932.  On that day, the 200 anniversary of the “father of the nation’s” birthday, no one called it the Aurora Bridge.  The bridge dedication is still remembered by many locals (I’ve talked with at least five of them.)   What is still vividly recalled is what shows here: a throng of 20,000 crowding the pavement of what one of the scheduled speakers described as “another link in the Pacific Coast Highway, the concrete chain between Canada and Mexico.”

A dedication program that included a few surprises preceded this ecstatic finale.  There were, of course, appropriate times for when bands played, choruses sang, cannons boomed, speakers spoke, and as if on cue the crowd roared.  That the day’s final speaker was the state’s Governor Roland H. Hartley was doubly ironic.  First, Hartley had never been an advocate of the bridge and had once even described paved highways generally as “hard surfaced joy rides.”

The second Hartley irony played like retribution.  The long-winded governor was interrupted mid-sentence by the President of the United State Herbert Hoover.   Since Hartley was then heralding George Washington’s “avoidance of foreign entanglements” he was better interrupted considering that the new George Washington Memorial Bridge was designed in part to promote a better “entanglement” of Canada, Mexico and the U.S.A.   It was, however, not any political nicety that motivated Hoover but rather strict observances of the ceremony schedule that had the president dedicating the bridge at 2:57 P.M. and it was exactly at 2: 57 that he pressed the golden telegraph key from his White House office.

Almost instantly the field artillery on Queen Anne Hill roared, a dozen trumpets blasted their fanfare, the fireboat Alki in the canal directly below the bridge shot water high into the arch made by the bridge, an oversized American flag, upper right, unfurled above the speaker’s platform at the south end of the bridge, and the state governor regrouped to shout into his microphone “The President has just pressed the key!”

What followed was the rush of thousands from both ends of the bridge to its center.  The next day’s Seattle Times reported that “youngsters galloping ahead, were the first to meet across the great span, and a few minutes later the bridge was a black mass of citizens . . . The bridge was dedicated.”

4 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Seattle Speed Bowl”

  1. Greg
    Jean just called me with news of your link. A fine work-in-progress Greg. Let us know when to apprise the hordes – a few hundred at least – who read this blog when you complete your documentary on Mel and more. We thank Ron Edge for introducing us to Mel, a real and rolling mensch.
    Paul

  2. Great information of local midget and hotrod racing in the 40’s and 50’s from Ron Edge and Mel Anthony. Keep the programs coming and add pictures if possible.

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