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The Igloo - 2018 Calendar, January

The Igloo, Seattle, 1940s

The Igloo, Seattle - courtesy Brad Holden.
The Igloo, Seattle - courtesy Brad Holden.

Many stories in 20th century America start with the car, and so it was with The Igloo in Seattle. Opened at the end of 1940 by Ernie Hughes and Ralph Grossman, the restaurant sought to cash in on the growing automobile traffic on Highway 99, the main route from Everett to Tacoma. 

The Igloo in 1942, courtesy Paul Dorpat.
The Igloo in 1942, courtesy Paul Dorpat.

True to its name, The Igloo consisted of two large metal-clad igloo-shaped structures, connected with an ice-tunnel-like entrance. On top of the igloos, a large neon sign held the diner’s name below a grinning eskimo (or Inuit, more properly nowadays) – later, the owners added two racing penguins. 

“At the time The Igloo opened, there were practically no other buildings around, and it must have been a spectacular sight that easily drew in travelers from Highway 99,” writes Chuck Flood in his book Lost Restaurants of Seattle. 

A note in the bottom-left corner of the menu interior, about price controls by the war-time Office of Price Administration (OPA), dates this menu to after 1943. 

This was just after the tenure of one Irene Borlaug, later Irene Wilson, who worked as a waitress at The Igloo from 1941 to 1942 as her first job after leaving her native North Dakota at the age of 19. 

In an interview from 1999, two years before her death, she paints a picture of a cheery establishment, where waitresses were allowed to eat their lunch out front at the counter – instead of in the back, as is more common – and which in the early 1940s was “hopping”.

(Seattle blogger Paul Dorpat later received an addendum to Irene’s story after mentioning it in an entry on The Igloo – her daughter sent in a picture of the one-time Igloo waitress in her uniform, complete with hair-bow and tassled boots.) 

The menu itself is also full of life as the diner seemed to be, with cartoon penguins (presumably imported from the south pole) chasing around, taking orders on the cover and diving into the water on the interior pages, a fearsome polar bear terrorizing a diner, and a walrus just doing its own thing in the water. 

Other interior elements show the food chain in action, penguins playing on a smiley walrus, mischievous fish taking advantage of a snoozing fisherman, a proverbial salesman selling fridges to eskimos – and an early representation of this year’s ubiquitous “distracted boyfriend” meme:


The cover spectacularly shows the diner shrouded in what looks like the aurora borealis – the northern lights – from behind a mountain, a rather more impressive situation than The Igloo’s actual suburban roadside home. 

The Igloo changed ownership in the 1950s, before closing some time around 1954, later to be demolished probably to make way for access ramps – and it’s safe to say Seattle is poorer for its loss.

See all 2018 Calendar pages >