FRENCH NOVELIST Marcel Proust famously described dunking madeleines — scallop-shaped cookies — in lime blossom tea, opening a sensory gateway to the lost world of childhood.
Our 69-year-old regional treasure, the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI, pronounced by locals as if inversely greeting one of the Three Stooges), also evokes such transport.
To jog my memory, I recently posted a question on social media: “What do you recall from school field trips to MOHAI?”
The result: hundreds of citations from adults once bused as students to MOHAI’s original Montlake building. The top 10:
- The fully furnished Victorian dollhouse
- The 10-by-24-foot painted mural of the Great Seattle Fire
- The actual glue pot that sparked the fire
- The hydroplanes (specifically Slo-mo-shun IV)
- The diorama depicting the Denny Party’s arrival and Duwamish welcome at Alki
- The stuffed gorilla Bobo, formerly of Woodland Park Zoo (and an Anacortes home)
- The 43-foot-long working periscope
- Suspended by wires, Boeing’s unique B-1 wooden floatplane, built in 1919
- The original Rainier Beer neon “R” sign
- Carved figureheads from wooden ships.
Honorable mentions included a 5-inch deck gun from the USS Colorado, a J.P. Patches exhibit and President Warren G. Harding’s pajamas.
Pulling back from the intimacy of memory to vertiginous spectacle, our twin aerial photographs — separated by 72 years — afford us a north-facing, bird’s-eye view of present-day MOHAI and its surroundings.
Our 1949 “Then” image, from photo historian Ron Edge, features MOHAI’s current home, the Naval Reserve Armory on Lake Union’s south shore. Designed by Seattle architects William R. Grant and B. Marcus Priteca (best known for his majestic Art Deco movie palaces), the Armory was dedicated on July 4, 1942, during the uncertain months following the U.S. entry into World War II.
Postwar, the Armory’s campus aided recruiting, training and mustering. Sometimes it served as a community dance hall. Docked in its slips might be decommissioned minesweepers, destroyers and the occasional submarine — significantly the USS Puffer, survivor of a record 38 hours of depth-charging and a perennial tour magnet until 1960, when it was sold for scrap.
MOHAI moved to the former Armory in 2012 after its original Montlake building, which opened in 1952, was shuttered to accommodate the expanding Highway 520 floating bridge.
In our aerial repeat, snapped from 1,200 feet, the museum is blooming in morning light just north of booming South Lake Union. Amid MOHAI’s imaginative redesign and relocation, many of its beloved treasures remain in rotation, fostering continued recollections for Seattleites young and old.
To revisit (and maybe add) your own MOHAI memories, join us at PaulDorpat.com.