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See the Legendary Hat ‘n Boots at Oxbow Park

 

For many Seattle residents, the Hat and Boots are as symbolic of the city as the Space Needle.

The 44-foot wide orange cowboy hat and 22-foot high boots have been a familiar site in the Georgetown neighborhood for decades, first as a thriving gas station, later as a faded kitschy reminder of pre-interstate glory. Eventually, the attraction was saved by a group of passionate neighbors and restored to its original beauty.

Today the Hat ‘n Boots are kept in impeccable condition at Oxbow Park in Georgetown. They are the centerpiece of a pleasant neighborhood park with a play structure, pea patch and grassy lawn.

When we visited Oxbow on a sunny weekend afternoon, several park visitors were snapping shots of the famous attraction. The pea patch was full of busy gardeners and a group of volunteers were doing park maintenance. It’s clear that the residents of Georgetown have a lot of pride in their most famous landmark. I imagine it is not an easy task to keep the park as nice as it is, as I noticed several tags on various concrete surfaces in the park.

One volunteer was touching up the boots with different shades of blue paint. He was kind enough to let us step into the largest boot to take a peek. It looked like a very tall unfinished basement with lots of paint cans, but that didn’t make it any less thrilling to be inside!

Oxbow is a great place for an unusual outing. In addition to the main attraction, there’s plenty of places to play and explore in this little park. The biggest drawback: no bathrooms.

Walk a block south of the park to the Carleton Avenue Grocery for a snack. Converted from a roadhouse to a store in 1911, it is possibly the oldest grocery in Seattle. I hear that husband and wife co-owners Allan Philips and La Dele Sines are quite knowledgeable about neighborhood history, including the Hat ‘n Boots.

More About the Hat ‘n Boots

Seattle artist Lewis Nasmyth was hired by the delightfully-named Buford Seals to design a concept for the Premium Tex gas station in 1953. It would be part of his Frontier Village shopping area. The Seattle artist was certain his wild idea would be rejected, but it was a hit with Seals.
Each boot held a restroom, ladies in the smaller light blue boot, men in the tall dark boot. The hat hovered over the station’s office, with nine pumps lined up alongside.

As soon as it opened in 1954, Premium Tex (later changed to Hat ‘n Boots) was a success. At one point, it was the biggest selling station in Washington. Apparently, even Elvis dropped by during the World’s Fair in 1962.

Not long after that, the newly-constructed I-5 started to pull traffic away from Highway 99 and the station. In 1988, it was forced to close due to low sales. Many locals tried to save the Hat ‘n Boots as they sat fading and crumbling from neglect. Some of the most famous were used car dealer Cal Worthington and comedy sketch show host John Keister of Almost Live! (in one version of the opening credits of the show, he would stand proudly in front of the structure).

Finally, The Georgetown Community Council bought the title to the Hat ‘n Boots for one dollar in 2002. A fundraising campaign was launched, and thousands of dollars were collected for moving and restoration. In 2003, with two trips, the structure was carted four blocks to Oxbow Park on a flat bed truck.

The boots were restored first, with Nasmyth himself ensuring design accuracy. Because of extensive damage to the concrete on the hat, it had to be broken down to the steel frame. By 2006, it too was restored to its original, bright orange beauty.

There’s a great video about the history of the Hat ‘n Boots and restoration at the official Seattle Parks and Recreation page for Oxbow Park.

Oxbow Park
6430 Corson Ave S.
Seattle, WA

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