(click to enlarge photos)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
5 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: McKay Ford on Westlake”
Anybody know what became of the circa 1949 Lincoln Mercury sign? It was a real landmark for decades..
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.
I worked at Wm O McKay Ford in 1963 to 1967. Levi’s Green was owner then & Morris Alper VP Geo Allbi at Pacific Lincoln Mercury Good Days!
I’s always nice to hear about my Dad and Grandfather. I worked weekends there during the early 70ty. I was the weekend switchboard operator I felt just like Lilly Tomlin from her operator comedy character.
They added Datsuns- later Nissan- not Subaru,
then became exclusively a Nissan dealership…