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Originally published Sunday, February 8, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Now & Then

Giant signs in Wallingford reflect changing times

In 1950, a big sign advertised the new grocery on North 45th Street in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood. A later sign touted the successor store, Food Giant. Now, letters from that sign were used to create the newest giant sign, this one celebrating the neighborhood itself.

Scrambling to the classical roof of Interlake School (now the Wallingford Center), a photographer from the old North Central Outlook got this record of the intersection where Wallingford Avenue crosses North 45th Street with a jog. Besides showing the blacktop of the school's playfield, bottom right, the photo highlights the new grocery with a mighty ambitious name: Foodland.

Foodland's grand opening — a sign is in the window — began on Nov. 17, 1950, with a spotlight and a great orchid giveaway: 500 of them. However, not everything was ready, including the neon sign on the roof — seen here — and Van de Kamps bakery, which took a few days to move in. Although still medium-sized, Foodland acted like a super store. There were 14 feet of self-defrosting food cases and 34 feet of self-service clear-wrapped meat. And most fascinating, the doors opened to electric eyes.

By the end of its first prosperous decade, the new grocery was razed for a parking lot to service a true "supermarket" directly behind it with the wonderfully silly name Food Giant. For 40 years the big red neon block letters spelling FOOD GIANT extended nearly the length of the roof. It and the Grandma's Cookies sign on North 34th Street were the Wallingford neighborhood's principal pop symbols.

When QFC bought the store in the late 1990s and tried to ditch the symbol for its own, a protest from the store's neighbors brought the compromise we see in Jean Sherrard's "now." By recycling seven of the old sign's big letters, a new and blue sign of equal grandeur and iconic appeal took its place. It named the neighborhood.

"Washington Then and Now," by Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard, can be purchased for $45 through Tartu Publications at P.O. Box 85208, Seattle, WA 98145.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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