If you lived in the West Woodland neighborhood between 1953 – 1970, you’ll remember hearing the air raid siren each Wednesday at 12:00 pm. Long time neighbors have told me that you could set your watch by ‘Big Bertha’, the nickname given the massive Crystler built siren that weighed over 5000 pounds. Dogs would howl and kids would scramble under their desks each time the siren wailed. Big Bertha was installed at North 67th Street & Phinney Avenue North, next to the John B. Allen School, better known as the Phinney Neighborhood Center.
The tower and siren were erected in 1953, a response to the Cold War, Communists, and threat of nuclear annihilation. This tower-siren combination just might be the only remaining example of the 21 that once dotted Seattle neighborhoods, my search turned up *no others. (But there is another! Please see two updates at bottom of post!)
Why was the air raid siren installed next to a school? According to a Seattle Times article, dated March 24, 1953, the alternative would have been the Woodland Park Zoo. “The whole thing could be explained to children. But who’s to recite the hard facts of the atomic-age to monkeys…?” Can’t argue with that logic.
In 2011, the Phinney Neighborhood Center, the surrounding buildings and the air raid tower, earned a historic designation. The Governor’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the Washington State Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation listed the John B. Allen property on the Washington Heritage Register of Historic Places. The property is also designated a Seattle landmark and home to the Phinneywood Monkeys during the winter holidays!
Additional information about this property is available HERE.
The City of Seattle routinely photographs public works projects, events, sites, facilities, and elected officials for current use and as a record of events. The photo below, of North 67th Street & Phinney Ave., was taken to record the creation of a traffic channel for motorist. This “channelization” is now a part of the Heart of Phinney Park.
Click HERE to explore the current view.
*Update #1 (04/03/2016):
Dave Hoover, neighbor & history enthusiast, found a photo on Instagram that shows an air siren tower, just like ‘Big Bertha’ at Northacres Park. There is no mention of the tower on the Seattle Parks Department webpage.
I headed out to the park this morning & indeed the siren & tower are still standing! There is no informational plaque available on site. I will call the Parks Department and see what information they are able to provide. Stay tuned!
*Update #2 (04/05/2016):
Message from Seattle Parks & Recreation
“I was not able to track down any historical information about the air-raid siren at Northacres Park. You might have more luck researching through the library.
The only information I could find from staff is that the air-raid siren is not designated as a landmark and that we currently do not have any plans to move the siren or do anything with it.
Strategic Communications Advisor
Seattle Parks and Recreation”