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Originally published April 26, 2014 at 4:51 PM | Page modified April 27, 2014 at 1:50 AM

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Revisiting Seattle’s lost sports landmarks

The Kingdome, Sicks’ Stadium and more sports venues that have been torn down still bring back memories for locals.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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Ask a typical Seattle sports fan of a certain generation — say, your father-in-law — about his favorite memory from the Kingdome, and you’re sure to get a laugh.

“Favorite Kingdome memory?” he’ll repeat. He doesn’t skip a beat: “When it was blown up!”

He is, you presume, not alone among local sports fans who believe the Kingdome is best forgotten. He isn’t the only one, you presume, laughing now at the notion of going inside a gray building, sitting under suspect ceiling tiles, surrounded by 52,800 cubic yards of concrete, to attend a baseball game on one of Seattle’s perfect summer afternoons.

And yet, as laughable as that idea feels to the modern Seattle sports fan — spoiled by the beauty of Safeco Field and conditioned to the dominance of the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field — the memories of the dead, dreary dome remain cement-solid long after the last slab was dispersed some 14 years ago.

For Margaret Thompson, that isn’t a laughing matter. She might be one of the few who would admit to missing the Kingdome.

There are others, surely, who feel the same about some of the other lost landmarks of Seattle sports lore: from picturesque Longacres Park in Renton, to the saltwater of Crystal Pool, to Seattle’s two thawed ice arenas; from the University of Washington’s original football field, Denny Field on the north end of campus, to the old baseball park, Dugdale Park, that an arsonist destroyed in South Seattle. Memories.

And then there’s one man determined to make us remember another long-gone ballpark.

Greg Gilbert and Jay Dotson / The Seattle Times, 2000

The Kingdome begins to collapse on itself moments after charges are detonated. This picture was shot with a remotely triggered camera.

Henry Noble isn’t laughing, either. He sounds annoyed, furious even.

“I grew up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium, and I just like baseball,” he says.

This Noble campaign began last year when the 75-year-old Seattle resident again visited the old Sicks’ Stadium site in Rainier Valley, now a Lowe’s Home Improvement store. He was struck by the condition of one wooden stadium sign — commemorating this, the former home of the Seattle Rainiers and Pilots — on the corner of Rainier Avenue South and South McClellan Street.

“It looks like (expletive),” he says of the sign, which has a white graffiti mark obscuring several letters. “To think, there was once this grand field there, and now there’s this grungy sign. It’s not right. ... Somebody should have responsibility for it.”

Noble made his pitch to clean up the sign, and the area, during a recent phone call. That call followed an earlier call to the Lowe’s store manager (strike three), which was preceded by an email to the Seattle parks department (strike two), which was preceded by an email to the Seattle Department of Transportation (strike one). All of which left Noble frustrated and fuming that he couldn’t find someone with a healthy memory of Sicks’ who could help him.

(The Lowe’s manager, Troy Hitt, said he would “be happy” to donate supplies to spruce up the sign, but the sign is located off Lowe’s property, so it’s not something Hitt says he can take responsibility for.)

“I did find somebody sympathetic while talking to a guy cleaning the parking meters (on Rainier),” he says. That didn’t get far.

Noble had moved to the Rainier Valley in the mid-1970s, when the Rainiers were nearing the end of their last tenure at Sicks’. They left in 1976. Soon, the old stadium closed; it became as useful as a bunt back to the mound. In February 1979, it was torn down. It was 41 years old.

Noble hasn’t forgotten. The sign, you sense, is only a symbolic representation of something grander for him.

“I felt sort of a kinship with the place,” he says. “At one point I thought, ‘Why don’t you just do it, Henry. Get a mop and do it yourself.’ I guess that’s still an option ... but I’m not much of a handyman.”


Interactive Map

All we have are memories of the long-gone sports venues that preceded jewels like Safeco Field, CenturyLink Field, Husky Stadium and Emerald Downs. A map of Seattle's lost landmarks:

Margaret Thompson, a longtime King County print-shop employee, watched from the third-story rooftop of the county Graybar Building, on the corner of South King Street and Occidental Avenue South, as the Seahawks’ Super Bowl parade made one last turn toward CenturyLink on Feb. 5.

“That,” she said, “was pretty cool.”

On March 26, 2000, Thompson had hoped to be on that same roof to watch 4,461 pounds of explosives, and 21 miles of detonating cord, flash and crumble the Kingdome.

“I tried to be here,” she said, “but they wouldn’t let us stay.”

Too close, too dangerous. Instead, she watched the dome’s demise from a county parking garage several blocks away. “It was a good view from there,” she said.

Thompson had always had a close connection to the Kingdome. Her mother, Wanda Strugar Thompson, was the manager of county facilities — the first woman to hold that position — and helped consummate the original Kingdome lease in 1975-76.

Margaret Thompson, now 63 and in her 31st year as a county employee, had season tickets, with a seat not far from the floor, for many years when the Sonics played in the dome (from 1978-85). She watched the parade downtown after the Sonics won the 1979 NBA championship. Paul Silas was her favorite Sonics player. She was a regular in the Kingdome lounge (“The prime rib dinner on Sunday was really good”) who enjoyed people watching (“Wayne Cody always seemed to have at least two women on his arms”).

“It was a cool place,” she said, “despite the roof falling in a couple times.”

Tangible pieces of the dome remain close. In the Graybar building print shop, an usher’s vest from the Kingdome hangs on the wall behind Thompson’s desk. It was a gift, she said, and the vest still has its black sheen and a bright blue patch on its left chest. One of the building’s storage-room floors is painted Kelly green — the same, leftover paint used to touch up the Kingdome’s AstroTurf. And at her desk, Thompson keeps a booklet — “24 Years of Kingdome Facts & Figures” — that she printed after the Dome’s doors closed for good on Jan. 9, 2000.

After the implosion, many of the items saved from the Kingdome — pallets upon pallets of red stadium chairs, television sets, printers, players’ lockers — were stored in the Graybar building’s basement, normally a parking garage.

An intern and a county surplus employee organized the many leftovers in summer 2000, and most of the items were sold at auction later that year. The red chairs were particularly popular. Indeed, Thompson wasn’t the only one who wanted a piece of the Kingdome to cherish.

Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times

The Northwest African American Museum hosts "Pitch Black," an exhibit of African-American baseball in Washington, and part of that is a Sicks' Stadium exhibit. Seattle artist Stu Moldrem made this base to give to Tommy Harper on Tommy Harper Night. During the 1969 Pilots season, Harper stole 73 bases, which broke a 1915 American League record.

It took two days, and two attempts with a forklift, but Chieko Phillips got her signature display for the Northwest African American Museum’s newest exhibit.

“This was my baby,” she says, looking at a 10-foot-tall, glass-encased display of Sicks’ Stadium memorabilia.

Phillips, the museum’s curator exhibits manager, hadn’t known much about Sicks’ when she first started researching the new exhibit, “Pitch Black: African American Baseball in Washington.” Phillips quickly discovered that Sicks’— which had been located about eight blocks south of the museum — has deep roots in the subject. The Sicks’ display case, which typically stands near the Lowe’s double exit doors, soon came to mind.

“(Lowe’s) is where we go for all of our supplies, so I was like, ‘That case! It has to be in here,’ ” Phillips says during a tour of the exhibit.

Hitt, the Lowe’s manager, was happy to donate the case to the museum. Eventually, the forklift was able to deliver the case, which sits at the front of the museum’s exhibit.

Among other items, the exhibit features memorabilia from the Seattle Pilots’ one major-league season at Sicks’ in 1969; a ticket stub for a doubleheader to watch the Seattle Steelheads of the short-lived West Coast Negro League, in June 1946; and a photograph of the Seattle Owls Club women’s softball team, which won the state’s first softball state championship in 1938 at Sicks’.

“Pitch Black” runs through Nov. 9. Memories of the lost — but hardly forgotten — landmark, and others like it once standing throughout Seattle, will run on.

Fun facts

• The Washington Husky football team, playing at its original home, Denny Field, had a winning streak of 39 games, then an NCAA record, from 1908 to 1914. The Huskies were unbeaten over a 63-game stretch from 1907 to 1917, going 59-0-4.

• Seattle became the first U.S. team to win the Stanley Cup championship trophy when the Metropolitans defeated the mighty Montreal Canadiens in 1917. So confident were the Canadiens they refused to bring the Cup with them to Seattle for games at Seattle Ice Arena.

• In October 1924, Babe Ruth played in an exhibition game at Dugdale Park, before a crowd of about 9,000, and hit three home runs in nine at-bats. One homer was said to have sailed beyond right field and into a neighboring gas station.

Civic Auditorium was known as “the house of Suds” because of the early financial contributions of the late saloon owner, James Osborne. The auditorium was part of the $1 million Civic Center (with Civic Ice Arena and Civic Field).

• The Seattle Eskimos defeated the Portland Buckaroos, 5-2, in the first hockey game played at Civic Arena on Nov. 23, 1928. In the last hockey game played there, the Thunderbirds beat the Saskatoon Blades, 7-4, on Oct. 28, 1995.

• Ruth returned to Seattle on Oct. 18, 1934, with Yankees teammate Lou Gehrig, for an appearance at Civic Field as part of a barnstorming tour.

• It was a “Last-minute scurry,” read The Seattle Times headline, for workers to complete Sicks’ Stadium seating on April 10, 1969, the day before the Pilots’ major-league home opener. The Pilots played just one season in Seattle before moving to Milwaukee (in an ownership group that included current MLB commissioner Bud Selig).

• Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens rode in all 11 races on the final day of racing at Longacres Park in 1992. He won three on that day at the Renton oval, including the final race with Native Rustler.

• The Kingdome drew a total attendance of 73,130,463 its in 24-year existence. It was a major concert venue — Led Zeppelin (1977), Paul McCartney (1976, 1990), Madonna (1987), the Rolling Stones (1981, 1995, 1997) and U2 (1997) all played there.

Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or ajude@seattletimes.com. On Twitter: @a_jude



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