The Hat n' Boots.
Hat n' Boots circa 1965, with people far too clean to have been pumping gas.

Hat n' Boots

Field review by the editors.

Seattle, Washington

In 1953 businessman Buford Seals announced plans to build a Western-themed shopping center, Frontier Village, on US 99 in the Seattle neighborhood of Georgetown. Commercial artist Lewis Nasmyth (1923-2016) was hired to design the center's gas station, something "really, really different," he later recalled, to grab motorists' attention. Lewis said it took just 15 minutes to draw an idea that was instantly approved: a gas station office beneath a giant cowboy hat, and two bathrooms shaped like giant cowboy boots.

The Hat n' Boots, 2017.
The Hat is now a park shelter. Kids like to sit on the toes of the Boots.

The gas station, with its oversized steel-framed and concrete-covered cowboy gear, opened in 1954. It was named Premium Tex because it sold Texaco gas, and if you filled your tank you received a "premium," such as a drinking glass or a toaster. It quickly became the busiest gas station in the state.

The hat, 19 feet high and 44 feet across, was built with 24 differently shaped cantilevered beams, and shed wind so it wouldn't blow away. The boots, one powder-blue and 21.5 feet high for "cowgirls," one dark blue and 24 feet high for "cowboys," were a particular source of pride for Lewis. He personally bent and creased the boots' steel mesh before the concrete was poured over it, so the boots would look worn and wrinkled.

The Hat n' Boots in 1992, before relocation and restoration.
The Hat n' Boots in 1992, abandoned and abused.

Premium Tex was a potent blend of all-American gun-slinging and gas-guzzling, and it had a few good years. But Buford Seals ran out of money and, aside from a supermarket named Foodville, the rest of Frontier Village was never built. The gas station changed its name to the oddly abbreviated Hat n' Boots when it stopped giving away toasters. Interstate 5 bypassed US 99, draining away customers.

Restoration underway at Oxbow Park, 2004.
Restoration underway at Oxbow Park in 2004.

By 1980 the bathrooms had closed, and in 1988 the gas station was abandoned. It gradually fell into ruin (We first visited in 1992, when the fenced-off site was a victim of occasional skateboard stunts and guerrilla art modifications).

Despite the sorry state of the old Hat n' Boots, the people of Georgetown -- a quirky enclave of urban survivors -- had grown fond of them. Allan Phillips and his wife, La Dele Sines, could see the crumbling, graffiti-scarred structures from their back door, and spearheaded a fight to save them. Allan, who had regularly gassed up at the Hat n' Boots as a cab driver in the 1980s, told us with a laugh that pure luck and his own ignorance contributed to his eventual success -- but he gave most of the credit to his Georgetown neighbors. "I could have squawked and flapped my arms and raised hell all I wanted, but it wouldn't have happened if nobody else had cared."

In Oxbow Park.
Western sunset over the restored Hat n' Boots.

Kathleen Conner, a planning manager for Seattle Parks and Recreation, agreed. "They had a vision," she said of the Georgetown community. "If you'd seen Hat n' Boots back then, you wouldn't believe the way they look now."

Several fortunate accidents combined to help save the Hat n' Boots. For one, they stood on a polluted former gas station site, too costly for a developer to clean up and bulldoze (Unlike another, less-fortunate Seattle attraction). The land defaulted to the state, which offered to sell Hat n' Boots for $1 to anyone who would move them somewhere else. A backup plan for demolition dragged so slowly through government channels that Allan and his neighbors had time to sway the city in their favor. "I always felt it was meant to be," said Allan, "but it was strange the way it all fell together."

Old postcard signed by Lewis Nasmyth in 2010.
Vintage "Premium Tex" postcard signed by Hat n' Boots designer Lewis Nasmyth.

In December 2003 the battered Hat n' Boots were trucked four blocks north to their new home in a little Georgetown park. Repairs and fundraising took years. According to Allan and Kathleen, some bad ideas were rejected, such as spreading asphalt in the park to make it look like a gas station, or trimming the Hat to thwart thrill-seeking skateboarders. Lewis Nasmyth, who still had samples of the Hat n' Boots' original colors, supervised their repainting. On July 11, 2010, just shy of his 87th birthday, he cut a ribbon in the park to celebrate the Hat n' Boots' complete restoration. Kathleen said she was confident that they would remain safe for another 50 years.

We asked Allan why Georgetown and Seattle, neither of them Wild West outposts, had such fondness for a giant cowboy hat and boots. "There's lots of big Paul Bunyans and Teapots and Dinosaurs, but there's only one Hat n' Boots," he said. "We couldn't let something like that go."

Also see: World's Largest Cowboy Boots

Hat n' Boots

Oxbow Park

Address:
6430 Carleton Ave. S., Seattle, WA
Directions:
I-5 exit 162 onto Corson Ave,, then south a half-mile. On the left, in a little park midway between S. Eddy and S. Warsaw Sts, across from the Dept. of Transportation maintenance shops.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
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