(Click and click again to enlarge photos)
Published in The Seattle Times online on Dec. 29, 2022
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Jan. 1, 2023
In light of history, Seattle’s neon signs scream, ‘Hey, look at me!’
By Clay Eals
For more than 13,500 nights, from November 1948 to January 1986 atop a building at Sixth & Wall, it glowed in hues of red, blue, green and yellow — a beacon of hope for journalism and the city itself. Once dubbed “the earth and eagle,” it was known more simply and affectionately as the P-I globe.
Latecomers may find the hyphenated letters unfamiliar. But for 128 years, from the 1881 merger of the Seattle Post and Daily Intelligencer until the newspaper’s final press run on March 17, 2009, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer competed for citywide attention. Reinforcing this was the glimmering globe’s rotating slogan, profound in its brevity: “It’s in the P-I.”
Allowing the 48-foot-tall worldly ornament to burn brightly was the 1898 British discovery of neon. The treated gas also had fueled Seattle’s first-ever neon sign, also for the P-I, which shone at its earlier site at Sixth & Pine from June 1927 through late 1948.
Today, neon is ubiquitous, as documented in a new, wildly colorful book, “Seattle Neon.” For three years, author/photographer Matt Hucke, a Chicagoan who arrived in the Queen Anne district in 2015, explored all corners of the city. The result: a 174-page volume with 460 annotated images, arranged by neighborhood and depicting the most noteworthy examples of the elemental art.
It’s also a snapshot of a fluid commercial landscape. “In an age where everything is being torn down and built again in a few years,” Hucke says, “it gives you a sense of place.” And illuminated neon, he says, can yield expressive insight. “It’s about screaming for attention in the middle of the night. It’s ‘Hey, look at me!’ ”
His array includes such icons as the chef and flapping fish of the now-closed Dahlia Lounge downtown and “everyone’s favorite,” the giant rotating sign at Denny & Battery for Elephant Super Car Wash. Hucke captured the pink pachyderm and its smaller, stationary sibling before closure of the business prompted the signs’ dismantling for preservation and restoration.
Unfortunately, his cover shot of the smaller elephant shows the scripted “Super” tubing burned out. Hucke finds that symbolic: “Not everything is perfect here.”
A similar fate is slowly befalling the P-I globe. Seattle landmarked it in 2012, and it still overlooks the waterfront from a five-floor office building at 101 Elliott Ave. W., where the paper moved in 1986 and operated until its 2009 print shutdown. But the battered sphere is largely unlit, and its slogan no longer rotates. A fix-up would be expensive.
In our New Year, where shines the beacon’s hope?
Special thanks to Mari Rabung and Barbara Dorhofer of 101 Elliott Ave. W., staff of Mindful Therapy, Jeff Pattison of NW Work Lofts, Matt Hucke, Dora-Faye Hendricks, Casey McNerthney, Heather & Erik Pihl and especially Feliks Banel for their help with this installment!
To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.
Below are 10 additional photos, the 2012 Seattle landmark designation for the P-I globe and 26 historical clips from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and Washington Digital Newspapers, that were helpful in the preparation of this column. PLUS: a surprise at the bottom.
Also check out these online articles for further background:
- “In a world where the P-I globe is restored and preserved,” by Feliks Banel, Nov. 4, 2022
- “The Sixth & Wall Building Then & Now,” by Casey McNerthney, Seattle P-I.com, Jan. 31, 2013