Twin T-Pís Restaurant
The Twin T-Pís Restaurant was among Seattleís most beloved roadside icons. Located on Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue) in the Green Lake neighborhood, the teepees were built in 1937 and housed Clarkís Twin T-Pís Restaurant. The automobile had become a popular choice of transportation by the late 1930s, and Highway 99 was the cityís major highway. Buildings as signage were a way to draw the attention of motorists speeding along Aurora Avenue. The teepee design was not unique to Seattle, as there were wigwams in other parts of the country housing motels and restaurants. Built by Walter Clark, one of the giants of Seattleís restaurant industry, the Twin T-Pís Restaurant served good food at affordable prices. Its location on Highway 99 meant easy access and visibility. With his business acumen and popularity with customers and fellow restaurateurs, Clark built a restaurant empire during the Depression, an amazing accomplishment given the state of the economy nationwide. He owned a chain with establishments in Seattle, Tacoma, Yakima, and Portland.
The Twin T-Pís Restaurant was Clarkís most iconic establishment. None of his other restaurants took this form or other form of roadside curiosity. All of Clarkís restaurants continued to do well, particularly during the post-WWII boom years. Among his best known were the Red Carpet, the Crabapple, Clark's Northgate, Clark's Corner, two Windjammers, and Dublin House. Clark sold his restaurant chain to the Campbell Soup Company in 1970.
While the other restaurants in the chain eventually closed, the Twin T-Pís Restaurant continued to operate, serving generations of Seattleites. However, in March 2000, a carelessly discarded cigarette ignited some paper and other items in the basement. The fire caused damage in the basement and smoke damage in other parts of the building. The owner of the property also once owned the restaurant and worked there as a waiter. He intended to repair the damage and reopen, but the repairs triggered upgrades for the building to the current code. The costs to upgrade the restaurant were substantial but not insurmountable. The local newspapers followed the story periodically and the owner always expressed a desire to reopen.
However, to the surprise of everyone (including the local preservation community), on the morning of July 31, 2001, the Twin T-Pís Restaurant was demolished. Loopholes in the Seattle Land Use Code allowed for the legal demolition of the structures without public notice. The Cityís Historic Preservation Program was never notified about the proposed demolition. Although a landmark in everyoneís eyes, the Twin T-Pís Restaurant was never formally nominated and designated as a City of Seattle Landmark. The owner considered developing a mixed-use, multi-family/retail project on the site. However, that project never came to fruition. Today, the site has yet to be redeveloped and is used as a parking lot. A pole sign that still stands on the site serves as a sad reminder that the beloved Twin T-Pís Restaurant once stood there.
What is the lesson learned from the needless destruction of the Twin T-Pís? We must be proactive in protecting our landmarks (whether officially designated or not). Every situation is different but the Twin T-Pís Restaurant could have been sold to someone who would have renovated the structure. In Seattle, property owner consent is not required for landmark nominations. Although everyone viewed the Twin T-Pís as a landmark, no one bothered to actually nominate or designate them. Although landmark status conferred onto a property doesnít necessarily guarantee that it wonít be demolished, it does offer a layer of protection for our most significant historic resources and makes sure any proposed changes or demolition plans are reviewed through a formal process. The likelihood of an official City landmark getting demolished is much less than if the property is not listed on a local register.
We were complacent in the fact that it had been an icon for decades and assumed it would always be there.