A look back at Nix Auto Wrecking & Ballard’s Gasoline Alley

You won’t see a ‘For Sale’ sign when you drive by 1400 NW Leary Way, but the long-time home of Nix Auto Wrecking, built in 1928, is on the market for $2.1 million. The lot is in Ballard’s old “Gasoline Alley” and was already home to a junk yard when it was purchased by Edward Prestek in 1939.  After retiring from his business in 1974, Nix Auto Wrecking was passed to his stepson Gerald Murphy, who is the current property owner.

Nix Auto Wrecking is a hold out of sorts, with nearby neighbors like Trader Joe’s, Quest Church, and Office Max, it is hard to believe that this area was once considered NW Seattle’s scrapheap for totaled cars, old tires, and more.  It is the last of it’s kind in the West Woodland, Ballard neighborhood and will be the end of an era once sold and the lot cleared for development.

An article dated February 26, 1996 in the Seattle Times, three days after Prestek had passed away at the age of 83, gives us an idea of how much Prestek enjoyed sales. (Edward Prestek – Feb 1996)

Once in the 1950s, Murphy said, Mr. Prestek sold the transmission of a junker he usually drove back and forth to work.  Unfortunately, he had no way to get home that evening so – always the improviser – he picked the only other junker that was driveable.

The car’s transmission was bad – only the reverse gear worked.  No matter. Mr. Prestek drove the car home backwards, from Ballard to the Shoreline area, and backwards to Ballard the next morning.”

Another great story in the Seattle Times, dated September 12, 1965, details a reoccurring theft issue at Nix Auto Wrecking. Playful high-jinx, or perhaps something more sinister, the article doesn’t share much more.

Nix Auto Wrecking - Theft

Time To Clean-Up:

Scrolling through the Seattle Municipal Archives (SMA), you will find at least 45 photos related to Nix Auto Wrecking violations.  At the time, Nix Auto Wrecking was storing cars on property and public streets from the Ballard Bridge, west on Leary, all the way to NW 47th Street.  The volume of cars is astounding to look at in the photos.

The city documented the violations with photographs that are surprising to look at.  Junk cars line the street and are left on the side walks and median.  For a pedestrian attempting to stay out of traffic, you would have to avoid the area all together, perhaps walking blocks out of your way just to use a clear sidewalk.

Below are three “Then & Now” photo groupings, looking east, from near the corner of NW 47th Street and Leary Way.


NW 47th and Leary - 1961 and 2016

Looking east from near the corner of NW 47th Street and Leary way.  In the background, right side, you can see the auto garage that would become the home of Redhook Brewery in 1981.  Now & Then pairing above, 1961 & 2016.  Photo courtesy SMA, Item #66603.


NW 47th and Leary - 1962 and 2016 (02).jpg

Looking east from near the corner of NW 47th Street and Leary way.  Now & Then pairing above, 1962 & 2016.  Photo courtesy SMA, Item #71267.


NW 47th and Leary - 1962 and 2016

Looking east from near the corner of NW 47th Street and Leary way.  Now & Then pairing above, 1962 & 2016.  Photo courtesy SMA, Item #71262.

Below are four “Then & Now” photo groupings, from near the corner of 14th Ave NW and NW Leary Way.


14th Ave NW and Leary - 1951 and 2016

Looking west from near the corner of 14th Ave NW and NW Leary way.  Now & Then pairing above, 1951 & 2016.  Photo courtesy SMA, Item #42552.


14th Ave NW and Leary - 1962 and 2016

Looking west from near the corner of 14th Ave NW and NW Leary way.  Now & Then pairing above, 1962 & 2016.  Photo courtesy SMA, Item #71266.


14th Ave NW and Leary - 1961 and 2016

Looking northwest from near the corner of 14th Ave NW and NW Leary Way. Now & Then pairing above, 1961 & 2016. Photo courtesy SMA, Item #66606.


14th Ave NW and Leary - 1962 and 2016 - looking NE

Looking northwest from near the corner of 14th Ave NW and NW Leary way.  Now & Then pairing above, 1962 & 2016.  Photo courtesy SMA, Item #71260.

As I mentioned before, there were 45 photos available online showing areas around NW Leary Way from 1948 – 1962.  If you would like to see all of them, check out Seattle Municipal Archives online and use search term “Nix Auto”.  Click HERE to search.




The Nostalgia Edition: A ride through the old neighborhood

02Enjoy one woman’s wonderful bicycle ride through Ballard & her care-free memories of growing up in the West Woodland Neighborhood at 6050 6th Ave NW.


This post really needs a more comprehensive title than just the usual “date + ride” formula. So much takes place in it — it’s a veritable cornucopia of rideblog news.

As many of my 12 avid readers know, The Raleigh has been out of commission for the last eight weeks, due to a broken saddle. My Industry Connection, the delightful D., has been trying to order me a new Brooks ever since. Where she works doesn’t carry Brooks saddles, and the US supplier has been out of stock the entire time. They kept telling her “next week,” then the next week… still out. Finally, I caved and went to buy a saddle locally for the normal price. When I called to tell her this news, she was out. I received a cryptic text a few moments after I hung up that read only: “Drunk in Napa.” Perhaps this explains much, perhaps not.

View original post 2,013 more words

Commemorating 418 NW 65th Street

Share Your Memories – A West Woodland neighborhood history enthusiast is creating an anthology of memories commemorating 418 NW 65th Street and needs your help.

The announcement yesterday regarding the sale of 412-418 NW 65th Street saddened many in the neighborhood. In response, the blogger behind Vintage West Woodland (https://vintagewestwoodland.wordpress.com/) is creating an anthology of memories to commemorate the businesses that once called this address home.

You’re invited to submit your stories, essays, photographs, and art featuring your experiences at these businesses, including 418 Public House, Reading Gaol Pub & Grill, Hagar’s, and more.

Memories will be shared on Vintage West Woodland for neighbors to enjoy! Interested in participating in this project? Please email your stories, essays, photos, and more by July 28, 2016 to westwoodlandneighbors@gmail.com.

Thank you for supporting this project!


Canal Substation: A Closer Look

About 40,000 neighbors in Seattle were recently in the dark due to a raccoon “de-energizing” the Canal Substation.  De-energizing is Seattle City Light’s way of saying something caused a loss of power in the electric grid.  RIP raccoon.

Until the power outage, I hadn’t thought much about our neighborhood substation.  It had simply been an odd colored government structure tucked in the southend of the neighborhood. I didn’t know how many residents relied on the substation, or the building’s backstory. What I’ve discovered since the outage is that these two Ballard blocks hold several secrets waiting to be discover!

Location & History:

Canal Substation is located on 8th Ave NW, taking up two city blocks between NW 46th Street & NW 45th Street. It’s on the north side of 45th, making it part of the West Woodland neighborhood, with Fremont across the street.  I still wish locals called this area the Ross neighborhood.  Keep the memory alive!

google map

Pink area is West Woodland, Ballard and grey area is Fremont.  Courtesy Google Maps.

The Puget Sound Power & Light Company constructed this transmission substation in 1928 as part of their private electric utility operations within the City of Seattle. It is the only transmission substation, of the original three constructed by Puget Sound Power & Light Company, still in existence and operation.  Today, Canal Substation is part of public powered Seattle City Light.  The previous owner, Puget Sound Power & Light, is doing business as Puget Sound Energy, providing electric and natural gas service throughout much of Western Washington.

With its mixture of Mission Revival and Neo-Classical Revival stylistic features, the architecturally distinctive Canal Substation is significant for its design and for its associations with the era of privately owned electric utilities in Seattle.  It also stands as a reminder of the evolution of Seattle City Light as the sole supplier of electric power in the area. The Canal Substation has been included on the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods list of Seattle Historical Sites.

1960 view - from Seattle city light FB page

The photo above of Canal Substation, with the Ballard Bridge in the background, is dated 1960 and courtesy Seattle City Light. An approximate current view of this same location, near the corner of 3rd Ave NW and NW 48th Street, can be found HERE.

Canal Substation Edible Landscape & Art: 

Noah-CL86.046.03a-g_CROPThe station had a major remodel in the mid 1980s and the large switch yard and adjacent building were painted in unusual colors for a substation – mostly pastels. As required by City of Seattle ordinance, 1 % of the cost was for art that was incorporated into the project.

Visit the substation after dark and you’ll see some of the “activities” happening inside through the softly glowing windows. Six back-lit silhouettes in the large upper-story windows are part of Barbara Noah’s artwork Forms of Power, created in 1986.

For Forms of Power, Noah painted images of allegories of power on windows made of sandblasted, multi-colored translucent Plexiglas. The hand signs of the game rock-paper-scissors, representing physical power, are painted on three orange windows. A pink window shows a couple about to kiss, symbolizing the power of love. A scientist conducting experiments represents the power of the mind. And in a green window, a blindfolded figure with outstretched arms, evoking traditional representations of justice, stands for the power of the law. This visual play subtly alludes to the factors that impact the daily lives in the homes and businesses that depend on the Canal Substation for power.

Sitework by GAYNOR plays off the art with striped paving evoking former rail lines, edible ‘hedgerows’, checkerboard of colorful ‘walkable’ herb groundcovers, delicate-to-dense ‘living’ fence, salvaged substation lightning arrester stands repurposed as benches, observation hill and interpretive signage. The project was completed in 1986, with approximately $220,000 spent for landscape and site improvements.

More information regarding the artistic aspects of the redesign available HERE.

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Then & Now: Ballard’s Street Department Barn

Before the convenience of modern heavy machinery, road construction was a real challenge for communities, including the growing cities of Ballard and Seattle. Loggers cut the trees, and teams of horses and mules dragged the stumps out of the ground.  If the stump wouldn’t budge, the road would simply be built around it. Streets then had to be cleared of debris, plowed, harrowed, and graded. On these crude roadways, early neighbors navigated through ever present mud and wagon wheel ruts. Improvements in the form of gravel, brick, or wooden planks were laid along main streets to make travel less demanding for travelers.

Street Department Barns were used to house horses, wagons, and tools needed to build the boulevards and byways in our growing city.   In the ‘Then’ photo below, there are piles of planks that appear to be ready for one of Ballard’s many muddy lanes and piled, ready for work, outside the Ballard Barn once located at 1148 NW 54th Street, now the backside of the Koi Apartments. Planked sidewalks and roadways could be seen until the 1930s, when large scale concrete paving efforts began in the neighborhood.  For example, NW 65th Street received its first concrete paving improvements in 1934.

Ballard Street Dept Barn

THEN (Above):  Street Department Barn #4, dated 1914.  Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives, #57330.

NOW (Below):  Looking northwest at the Koi Apartments, dated 2016.


In the background of the ‘Then’ photo is Ballard Livery & Transfer Company Stables, located at 14th & Market Street.  At this location you could rent horses, tack, buggies, and more. By 1909, the same year as the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, Ballard Livery began advertising “Automobile for hire”,  as seen in The Seattle Times advertisement below.  A sign of changing times.

st 1909 crop

Ballard Livery classified advertisement, dated July 7, 1909.  Courtesy The Seattle Times.

According to HistoryLink.org, between 1906 and 1916, the number of motor vehicles in Washington increased almost 100 times – to 70,000. Between 1915 and 1920, the number of automobiles in the U.S. quintupled to 10 million.  That is a lot of cars driving on dirt, gravel and brick roads.  Look down when you are walking in one of Seattle’s historic districts, some of those bricks can still be found peeking out from below the pavement.

When were the first roads in Washington paved?

In 1904, a survey showed that just 1 percent of the roads in the state were paved (likely brick and stone). Most of those were within cities. According to HistoryLink.org, these were the first paved roads in Washington.

Who was responsible for roads in early Seattle?

In the growing City of Seattle, the Department of Streets and Sewers was responsible for planning, construction, repair, and cleaning of the City’s streets, sidewalks, and sewers. City Council appointed the first Street Commissioner in 1875. The position came under the jurisdiction of the Board of Public Works in 1890. The position of Superintendent of Streets, Sewers and Parks was established in 1896; authority over parks was removed in 1904. The Department was abolished in 1936 and became the Maintenance Division of the Engineering Department.

then and now dates

Then & Now (Above):  1148 NW 54th Street


Location of Street Department Ballard Barn.  Map courtesy Google Maps.

Seattle’s Second Bertha: Cold War Relic on Phinney Ridge

If you lived in the West Woodland neighborhood between 1953 – 1970, you’ll remember hearing the air raid siren each Wednesday at 12:00 pm.  Long time neighbors have told me that you could set your watch by ‘Big Bertha’, the nickname given the massive Chrysler built siren that weighed over 5000 pounds.  Dogs would howl and kids would scramble under their desks each time the siren wailed.  Big Bertha was installed at  North 67th Street & Phinney Avenue North, next to the John B. Allen School, better known as the Phinney Neighborhood Center.

Learn about Seattle’s first Bertha, Mayor Bertha Landes, on HistoryLink.org: http://www.historylink.org/File/5343

The tower and siren were erected in 1953, a response to the Cold War, Communists, and threat of nuclear annihilation. This tower-siren combination just might be the only remaining example of the 21 that once dotted Seattle neighborhoods, my search turned up *no others. (But there is another!  Please see two updates at bottom of post!)

Why was the air raid siren installed next to a school? According to a Seattle Times article, dated March 24, 1953, the alternative would have been the Woodland Park Zoo.  “The whole thing could be explained to children. But who’s to recite the hard facts of the atomic-age to monkeys…?”  Can’t argue with that logic.


Dated March 24, 1953, courtesy The Seattle Times

In 2011, the Phinney Neighborhood Center, the surrounding buildings and the air raid tower, earned a historic designation.  The Governor’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the Washington State Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation listed the John B. Allen property on the Washington Heritage Register of Historic Places. The property is also designated a Seattle landmark and home to the Phinneywood Monkeys during the winter holidays!

Additional information about this property is available HERE.

air raid pic 1

Air Raid Siren Installation, April 22, 1953.  Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives, #44281.

Tower - North 02 with date

Then & Now:  Looking north at 67th & Phinney

air raid pic 2

Air Raid Siren Installation, April 22, 1953.  Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives, #44285.

Tower - North with date

Then & Now:  Looking south at 67th & Phinney

Bonus Picture:

The City of Seattle routinely photographs public works projects, events, sites, facilities, and elected officials for current use and as a record of events. The photo below, of North 67th Street & Phinney Ave., was taken to record the creation of a traffic channel for motorist.  This “channelization” is now a part of the Heart of Phinney Park.  


Looking north at North 67th Street & Phinney Ave North, 1951.  Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives, #54427

Click HERE to explore the current view.

*Update #1 (04/03/2016):  

Dave Hoover, neighbor & history enthusiast, found a photo on Instagram  that shows an air siren tower, just like ‘Big Bertha’ at Northacres Park.  There is no mention of the tower on the Seattle Parks Department webpage.

I headed out to the park this morning & indeed the siren & tower are still standing!  There is no informational plaque available on site.  I will call the Parks Department and see what information they are able to provide.  Stay tuned!

Northacres Park 04 03 2016

*Update #2 (04/05/2016):

Message from Seattle Parks & Recreation

“I was not able to track down any historical information about the air-raid siren at Northacres Park. You might have more luck researching through the library.

The only information I could find from staff is that the air-raid siren is not designated as a landmark and that we currently do not have any plans to move the siren or do anything with it.



Christina Hirsch
Strategic Communications Advisor
Seattle Parks and Recreation”

The accidental neighborhood historian

After my baby boy was born, I filled long hours with walks around my neighborhood. Not the kind that simply take you from point A to point B, but walks where I would lose myself in the trees, flowers, and architecture of the neighborhood. The questions started during a spring stroll in March 2013. Why does that home look like an old grocery store? Why is 5th Ave NW wider than the rest of the roads in the neighborhood? A digital camera became my constant companion and the photos of buildings, roads, and other neighborhood landmarks were researched during baby boy’s nap time.

It didn’t take long to realize I knew nothing about my neighborhood.  I didn’t even know I lived in Ballard. Armed only with curiosity and a laptop, I began my research. During one walk I photographed an apartment building near NW 65th Street with the words “The West Woodland Apts.” painted above the front entrance.  A quick online search of “West Woodland” revealed a photo of the Woodland Theater. My first discovery, and another question.  Why do these locations all have “Woodland” in their name?  The hunt continued.


The West Woodland Apartments at 6512 5th Ave.NW.

I shared the discoveries with my neighbors and in return they sent more locations for me to research.  Long time locals thanked me for collecting their memories and photos. A few wondered if West Woodland would be forgotten in our rapidly changing city.

I love my hobby.  The research is exciting and I enjoy giving back to the community I call home – West Woodland, Ballard.  When you’re out on your next walk, look beyond the pealing paint, the angular addition, or that overgrown hedge. It’s worth the effort to uncover Seattle history hiding in plain sight.

Connecting with Paul Dorpat & Jean Sherrard

I’ve been reading the ‘Now & Then’ column since I was in Elementary School.  Every Sunday while my sister Sandy and brother John fought over the funny pages, I would grab Pacific Magazine out of the middle of the Times and flip to the back page.  The old photos of Seattle were mesmerizing.  I knew I was holding something special, so I carefully cut each one out and saved in a photo album my Mom kindly purchased for me.

Fast forward to 2015, the photo album has long since been discarded, but I continued to read ‘Now & Then’ online. One sunny Sunday scrolling through the archives, I realized West Woodland had never been highlighted. I mustered up the courage and sent an email to Paul Dorpat, my childhood hero.  When he called me a week later, I totally gushed on the phone. Absolutely star-struck.  I collected myself after a few minutes and got down to business. “Please write a column about West Woodland!”, I said.  He agreed and the rest is now history.

ST - 03 27 2016 - Pierce

Classic Home Tour Hosted By Ballard Historical Society

bhsEvery three years, the Ballard Historical Society showcases the solid craftsmanship of Ballard homes. The 2013 home tour was a success, and they’re doing it again this year!

Mark your calendars for Ballard Historical Society’s Classic Home Tour to be held on Sunday, June 26, 2016. This year’s slate of nine vintage houses were built between 1900-1931.  The homes will be open for public view from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. that day as a fundraiser to benefit Ballard Historical Society, a non-profit.

These well-maintained homes will draw you back to an era of solid craftsmanship, beauty, and style. Some on the tour exemplify the thoughtful integration of an older home’s necessary updates while still embracing the scale and period in which the house was built.

$20 tour tickets will go on sale in early June. For more information, keep an eye out for updates on their Facebook page and website.

Want to volunteer?

Are you interested in volunteering for the 2016  Ballard Classic Home Tour and touring the houses free of charge?  Please email our Classic Home Tour Coordinator, Lesli Cook.

Join the Ballard Historical Society!

The Ballard Historical Society relies on members to help preserve the history and culture of Ballard.  They compile archives of historical Ballard photos, hosts lectures and take on exciting new community project to improve our unique neighborhood.

Attending BHS events, visiting the web site and keeping in touch via their blog is a great way to honor one of the best things about our neighborhood — it’s colorful history!

Learn more about the benefits of membership HERE.

The Ghosts of Seattle Past

ghostsThe Ghosts of Seattle Past is an anthology and art installation designed to preserve memories of place – gathering spots, restaurants, shops, art venues, and community institutions lost to rapid development in Seattle.

The project started with editor/curator Jaimee Garbacik, mapmaker Josh Powell, and designer Jon Horn conducting interviews with community members, inviting the public to share places they miss.  The team also created a digital map where anyone could pin and note their memories of a lost space, you can find the map HERE.

The team will be using the map as a reference as they create hand-drawn maps featuring everywhere Seattleites miss. The art installation includes an atlas of essays, photography, and art from those who wish to commemorate a lost space.

The Ghosts of Seattle Past team is collaborating with Chin Music Press to compile and publish an anthology of the most striking and representative pieces of the art installation. The book will come out in or before 2017, but in the meantime this labor of love is ongoing.

They are hoping the public continues to share stories and art to be included in this project. Their goal is to make sure that as many different voices are represented as possible from all of Seattle’s communities.

Would you like to participate?

They’re looking for essays, people to interview, or any artwork or photography they can print to help preserve the city’s collective memories. If there is someone who you think would be a good fit for our project, they would also like for you to share their contact information.

Many of the places we love are disappearing, please help in creating something that lasts.

Contact Information:

Cali Kopczick
Editor, Chin Music Press
(360) 531-3337

The #27 Trolley Line

Walks through the neighborhood usually turn into a history lesson for anyone with me. The old buildings all hold stories waiting to be uncovered and shared.  Clues to our neighborhood’s past are everywhere – embedded in the sidewalk, under vinyl siding, or shared in the memory of a longtime resident. When we are looking, with our eyes and ears, we find clues that provide a peek into the past.

I was one of the many volunteers photographing pre-1960 homes this past February as part of the Ballard Historical Society’s mapping project. My assigned route took me from 8th Ave NW to 14th Ave NW, where I met David Smith, owner of Blowing Sands Glass Studio.

with address 2016-02-06 14.07.54

David showed me around his building, sharing bits of history he had gathered using old property records and photos obtained from the Puget Sound Archives.  As I was leaving he showed me the old City of Ballard street name plaque embedded in the sidewalk outside his shop and our conversation turned to trolleys.

Pre-1907, 14th Ave NW was Railroad Avenue and the #27 trolley ran the length of the street, taking passengers north to East Sloop Street, today’s NW 70th Street.  There was a “T” or turn around at NW 70th Street so the trolley was able to face forward on the way back into town.  Photo of the #27 trolley below, courtesy the University of Washington.  Current view of this location can be found HERE.

Ballard trolley

Trolley lines were important in the development and expansion of early Ballard.  The northern frontier neighborhoods, including Loyal Heights & West Woodland, owe their growth to the introduction of the trolley line.  Most roads in the area were not paved until the 1930s, making travel dirty and difficult.  Trolleys made the rural north end accessible to those wanting to buy property or a home of their own.

1915 Trolley map

Note the 14th Ave NW railway Bridge that once connected Ballard and Interbay.  Courtesy Seattle Department of Transportation.

As I walked home along 14th Ave NW, I wondered what our city would be like today if the trolley rails had not been torn up and replaced by gasoline powered buses in the 1940s. The convenience of commuting from Ballard to Fremont, Queen Anne & beyond, car free, no parking problems, makes the trip sound down right delightful.

The future of 14th Ave NW includes a park that will provide much needed green space in park starved Ballard.  This two block outdoor oasis, stretching from NW 59th to NW 61st Street, will become the front yard for neighbors who live in the many condos and townhomes lacking outdoor access. Perhaps someday the park will stretch south, following the trolley line, creating a refreshing refuge for years to come.

Learn more about Seattle’s Trolley History HERE and the 14th Ave NW Park HERE.