Seattle Now & Then: McKay Ford on Westlake

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: William O. McKay opened show rooms on Westlake in July of 1923. After fifty-seven years of selling Fords, the dealership turned to the cheaper and more efficient Subaru. Now reconstructed, the old Ford showroom awaits a new tenant.
THEN: William O. McKay opened show rooms on Westlake in July of 1923. After fifty-seven years of selling Fords, the dealership turned to the cheaper and more efficient Subaru. Now reconstructed, the old Ford showroom awaits a new tenant.
NOW: The practice of preserving cherished facades – like that which fronted McKay’s terra-cotta landmark on Western, which was saved tile-by-tile – by incorporating them into new and larger buildings is controversial: embraced by some and loathed by others. The reconstructed McKay showrooms now front the Allen Institute.
NOW: The practice of preserving cherished facades – like that which fronted McKay’s terra-cotta landmark on Western, which was saved tile-by-tile – by incorporating them into new and larger buildings is controversial: embraced by some and loathed by others. The reconstructed McKay showrooms now front the Allen Institute.

If we were to build a local pantheon to the memory of Puget Sound’s greatest pitchpersons, it would certainly include two or three car dealers, and the record-breaking Ford salesman William O. McKay would be among them.  As a teen at Broadway High, the spirited McKay might have easily become a cheerleader, except that he could play.  Wee Coyle, the future UW all-star quarterback, was a friend and teammate; and both were members of First Hill’s Terry Street Gang, an athletic but generally benign cadre of teen urban explorers.  The 1908 graduate became a leader in Broadway High’s alumni association while still a student at the UW. Surely William O. later traded many Fords to former classmates.  Overall, by 1935 he had sold 22,000 of them. 

The three assertive sides of McKay - athletics, military, and Ford sales - are given parts in this caricature.
The three assertive sides of McKay – athletics, military, and Ford sales – are given parts in this caricature.

His life with cars began in the pit beneath them.  Soon, however, the young McKay explained to his boss, “I’ve got my mind set on becoming the leading automobile dealer in the Northwest,” and his boss moved him up to the show room. In the March 19, 1916, issue of the Seattle Times there’s a picture of McKay, then manager of the local Saxon dealership, posing in a six-cylinder Saxon Touring Car. This was short-lived.  McKay was soon off to France and the First World War. He enlisted as a private and came home a captain.  One world war later, when Fords were turned into bombers and tanks, the by then Major McKay was put in charge of Marine Corp recruitment for the area.  The major announced his new vocation – “for the duration” – with a banquet for 100 associates and VIPs held within the splendor of his admired Ford showroom on Westlake at Roy Street. 

McKay, on the left, completes a deal.
McKay, on the left, completes a deal.
By the late 1940s, McKay was characterizing his dealing in Fords as guided with applications of McKayized care.
By the late 1940s, McKay was characterizing his dealing in used cars – including Fords – as guided with applications of McKayized care.

McKay had built his terra cotta-clad palace for Fords (and soon Lincolns and Mercurys) in 1922-23.  Following McKay’s lead, Westlake quickly became one of Seattle’s greater auto-rows.  He also kept showrooms on both Pike Street and on the ground floor of the Washington Athletic Club where he was an active member. He promoted the latter as “Seattle’s first Automobile Salon.” But it was from this gleaming Ford fort on Westlake that the Major strategized his many sales promotions, radio broadcasts, and public services, such as acting as campaign chairman for the Seattle Community Fund and prexy for the Seattle Dealers Association.

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McKay Ford from a tax photo.
McKay Ford from a tax photo.
From The Seattle Times for Feb. 10, 1952.
From The Seattle Times for Feb. 10, 1952.

The light show of McKay’s Westlake showroom, printed at the top, is from 1949. By then the Ford dealer was an America Legion leader.  William O’s wife Gloria was also an outgoing community leader and performer.  In 1949 she had recently retired from her presidency of the Women’s University Club.  When requested, she would bravely sing show tunes before the annual members-only Stunt Night.

A December 15, 1943 Seattle Times notice of a joined memorial for Lieut Theo McKay, the dealer's son, and the christening of his son's son.
A December 15, 1943 Seattle Times notice of a joined memorial for Lieut Theo McKay, the dealer’s son, and the christening of his son’s son.

One of the few ironies of William O. McKay’s in-line life was his death, which recalled a rare family tragedy.  He died in the Fiji Islands while on cruise with his wife in 1956.  Thirteen years earlier, Lt. Theodore McKay, their only son, was killed by a broken propeller while standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier, also in the South Seas.  The December 1943 memorial for Theodore Sr. followed the baptism of Theodore Jr., his three-month old son whom he had never seen. 

A Seattle Times homage from Dec. 19, 1956.
A Seattle Times homage from Dec. 19, 1956.
Clip from The Seattle Times for Dec. 21, 1956.
Clip from The Seattle Times for Dec. 21, 1956.

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, boys?  Surely Jean but first let us admire you and your reading of this week’s video at the top, of the 1923 McKay Ford contest winner’s 250-word essay on the glories of the new terracotta dealership on Westlake.  Your well-wrought parody of a huckster’s tone was at once loving and almost embarrassingly  baroque.   I watched it four times practicing an admiring accompaniment.

Meanwhile, here’s some more of our weekly practice – more features and asides that relate to the subject  or neighborhood of this week’s concern for William O. McKay, a UW letterman (in track) who sold Fords very well at the southwest corner of Lake Union.

Then: Photographed from an upper story of the Ford Factory at Fairview Avenue and Valley Street, the evidence of Seattle's explosive boom years can be seen on every shore of Lake Union, ca. 1920. Courtesy of MOHAI

THEN: Werner Lenggenhager's recording of the old St. Vinnie's on Lake Union's southwest shore in the 1950s should remind a few readers of the joys that once were theirs while searching and picking in that exceedingly irregular place.

aurora-broad-speed-web

THEN: Like violence in a classic Greek play, the carnage suggested by this 1934 crash scene on the then new Aurora speedway was kept off stage, either behind the city’s official photographer, or in the county morgue. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archive.)

THEN: The brand new N&K Packard dealership at Belmont and Pike in 1909. Thanks to both antique car expert Fred Cruger for identifying as Packards the cars on show here, and to collector Ron Edge for finding them listed at this corner in a 1909 Post-Intelligencer. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry.)

THEN: Photographed in the late 1950s, the floating restaurant’s huge on deck hooligan got no competition as yet from the Space Needle (1962) in breaking the horizon.

THEN: This portrait of the Seattle Gas Company’s storage tank dates from the spring of 1907, which explains its somewhat steeper topography. Between 1908 and 1911, both Republican Street, here on the right, and 9th Avenue N. were lowered to a grade close to that of Westlake Avenue, which is behind the photographer.

 THEN:The front end damage to the white Shepherd Ambulance on the right is mostly hidden behind the black silhouette of either officer Murphy or Lindberg, both of whom answered the call of this morning crash on Feb. 18, 1955.

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NEARBY

Sometime early in this millenium, I wrote a now-then on this look east to the Western Mill and across Westlake Avenue. Mercer Street would be on the far right and Valley on the far left, although the su subject reaches neither of them. I have lost this feature but will surely find it on some disk or pile. The "now" I took to repeat it has surfaced and it follows. It was taken from the second floor of the McKay dealership, and it does reach wide to Mercer and Valley. The third view the follows it is probably the second oldest detail of the neighborhood. It too looks east across the southern end of Lake Union, and when the lake reached a block or more south beyond Valley Street. We will included the oldest look tin the south end next - a feature on the narrow-gauged coal train that began running from here to the Pike Street Wharf in 1872.
Sometime early in this millenium, I wrote a now-then on this look east to the Western Mill and across Westlake Avenue. Mercer Street would be on the far right and Valley on the far left, although the su subject reaches neither of them. I have lost this feature but will surely find it on some disk or pile. The “now” I took to repeat it has surfaced and it follows. It was taken from the second floor of the McKay dealership, and it does reach wide to Mercer and Valley. The third view the follows it is probably the second oldest detail of the neighborhood. It too looks east across the southern end of Lake Union, and when the lake reached a block or more south beyond Valley Street. We will included the oldest look tin the south end next – a feature on the narrow-gauged coal train that began running from here to the Pike Street Wharf in 1872.
Photographed ca. 2003 from the second floor of the terracotta palace the McKay built for his Ford dealership in 1923. The view looks east across Western Avenue and very close to LaRoche's prospect for the view above it.
Photographed ca. 2003 from the second floor of the terracotta palace the McKay built for his Ford dealership in 1923. The view looks east across Western Avenue and very close to LaRoche’s prospect for the view above it.   For the video interview at the top, Jean parked his Nissan on the sidewalk seen here across Westlake.   I think to the left of the tree, which is now most likely trimmed to death.
Probably the second oldest look over the south end of Lake Union. The Western Mill is new and crude, and so from the early-mid 1880s. But with the Seattle boom beginning it grew quickly.
Probably the second oldest intimate look over the south end of Lake Union. The Western Mill is new and crude, and so from the early-mid 1880s. But with the Seattle boom beginning it grew quickly.
Built up some but also undated. Here the mill is most likely still extending on a dock south of Valley Street but attached to it - where MOHAI is now. The trestle in the foreground may be Westlake as it prepared to head south on a trestle along the western shore of the lake in 1890-1. To this side of the trestle, on the left beyond the stump, is native home made of cedar planks and mats and such. On the horizon the crown of Capitol Hill has been harvest first for its best timber.
This Western Mill scene is built up some but also undated. Here the mill is most likely still extending on a dock south of Valley Street but attached to it too – where MOHAI is now. The trestle in the foreground may be Westlake as it prepared to head south on a trestle along the western shore of the lake in 1890-1. To this side of the trestle, on the left beyond the stump, is a native home made of cedar planks and mats and such. On the horizon the crown of Capitol Hill has been harvested first for its best timber. (Courtesy, University of Washington, Northwest Collection part of its Special Collections.)

TWO LAIDLAW AERIAL from the 1930s.  Both look east over the roof of McKay Ford.  The neighborhood’s six or seven story Horluch Brewery towers a block east of McKay’s.

(Courtesy, The Museum of History and Industry)
(Both Laidlaws are used courtesy of The Museum of History and Industry)
You might consider clicking all these to enlarge them and make a proper study.
You might consider clicking all these to enlarge them and make a proper study.
The Horluck Brewery at the northeast corner of Mercer Street and Terry Avenue.
The Horluck Brewery at the northeast corner of Mercer Street and Terry Avenue.

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Coal-Road-Westlake-1871-web

First appeared in Pacific, March 32, 1996.
First appeared in Pacific, March 32, 1996.

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clip-Brown-Kids-swimming-p.1-WEB

I used this Brown family photo on the cover of Seattle Now and Then, and the Brown kids were very very good to me.
I used this Brown family photo on the cover of Seattle Now and Then, and the Brown kids were very very good to me.
Circa 1903, Mother Brown playing in the lake at its southwest corner of with the Westlake Trestle nearly reaching the shore.
Circa 1903, Mother Brown playing in the lake at its southwest corner of with the Westlake Trestle nearly reaching the shore.
The protected retreat for swimmers became a landfill in the teens. Note Western Mill on the far right.. The wagons are line-up on Eighth Avenue more likely than Ninth. The photographer stands near Aloha Street and Dexter Avenue.
The protected retreat for swimmers became a landfill in the teens. Note Western Mill on the far right.. The wagons are line-up on Eighth Avenue more likely than Ninth. The photographer stands near Aloha Street and Dexter Avenue.
First appeared in Pacific, April 23, 2000.
First appeared in Pacific, April 23, 2000.  This “now” has changed considerably since I took the above in 2000.

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That’s all for now.  We climb  the steps, but hope to return tomorrow afternoon for a few more subjects from the neighborhood and maybe even a proofreading.  Maybe.

2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: McKay Ford on Westlake”

  1. The business was sold to Jaguar and Landrover of Seattle. Al the new owner had the sign taken down since it was no longer a Mercury dealer ship. I don’t know what he did with it. He now has dealerships in Lynnwood and Bellevue.

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