Giant Shoe Museum display.

Giant Shoe Museum

Field review by the editors.

Seattle, Washington

Resembling an entrance to a circus sideshow, the Giant Shoe Museum is a flamboyant presence at Seattle's downtown Pike Place Market. While it is essentially a single exhibit wall, it occupies a sizable chunk of the Old Seattle Paperworks store. Its owner, John Hanawalt, recalled the day that he presented the idea to the city commissioners who had to approve displays and signage. "I had mock-ups and drawings and I brought in one of the giant shoes," he said, "and they all looked at me like I was completely nuts."

World's Largest Collection of Giant Shoes.

The Museum displays part of the collection of Danny Eskenazi, who became obsessed with giant shoes after he'd learned that his grandfather had once owned a wingtip worn by Robert Wadlow, the world's tallest man.

Danny offered $1,000 to anyone who could find that Wadlow shoe. It remains lost, but his efforts led to the discovery of the other shoes that are now displayed in the Museum (his offer still stands, and there's an exhibit on it as well).

The Giant Shoe Museum was designed and built by graphic artist Sven Sundbaum, "one of those rare genius-type guys who can literally do everything," said John. Visitors drop quarters into coin boxes, peer through stereoscope-style viewing slots, and are rewarded with views of various giant shoes, including another size 37 brogue worn by Robert Wadlow (his shoes pop up in other museums as well).

A real clown shoe.

By far the most popular exhibit -- and the costliest at 50 cents -- is the "world's largest collection of giant shoes." Drop in two quarters and heavy curtains part behind a window, revealing a selection of immense footwear: Herculean hi-tops, groovy 1970s slip-on boots, century-old button-ups, maybe a dozen in all.

The glimpse is fleeting, but it burns into your brain. Did these leviathans really move among us, their huge tootsies crewing improbable leather boats?

According to John, he often gets visits from passers-by who recognize the Museum's life-size painting of Robert Wadlow and claim to be from his hometown. He's continually entertained by onlookers who dismiss the Museum as a waste of their money, "and then -- cha-ching! -- you hear the quarters go in anyway." No giants have stopped by yet, but he's hopeful.

John accepts the incongruity of operating a Giant Shoe Museum in a store that sells old posters and magazines. "I'd probably have a more successful business if I hadn't given away a third of my window space," he said. "But it was just too cool of a thing to pass up."

Giant Shoe Museum

Hanawalt's Old Seattle Paperworks

Address:
1501 Pike Place, Seattle, WA
Directions:
Hanawalt's Old Seattle Paperworks. Downtown. On the Down Under level at the Pike Place Market, store #424, directly below the street level Market entrance sign. Park one block over at 1531 Western Ave.
Hours:
M-Th 11-5:30, F 10:30-6, Sa 10-6, Su 11-5. (Call to verify)
Phone:
206-623-2870
Admission:
For a dollar in quarters you can see every shoe.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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April 23, 2014

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