Parker's leveled to the ground - grand history a pile of splinters

Sunday, November 18, 2012

After the demolition equipment, Parker's is a pile of rubble
Photo by Steven H. Robinson

The venerable Parker's Ballroom, home to Seattle's rock and roll history, was recently leveled to the ground. Most recently a sports bar, Parker's had a glorious past as one of the homes to early Seattle rock and roll.

By Peter Blecha, June 05, 2002

Parker's Ballroom

Seattle’s venerable Parker's Ballroom (which opened in 1930 on the "New Seattle-Everett Highway," now known as Aurora Avenue N) held a unique place in Northwest music history. Like a few other local dancehalls, it spanned all of the sequential musical era’s from the wild jazz days of the Prohibition Era right on up through the forties swing scene, from the rise of rock ‘n’ roll in the fifties, to the psychedelic sixties, and onwards to the heavy metal, disco, and punk rock scenes of the seventies. Unlike most other historic dancehalls, Parker’s survived into the twenty-first century before being demolished in 2012.

A Remarkable Architectural Marvel

The roadhouse was founded by its namesake, Dick Parker (d. 1940), a meatpacker by trade, who purposefully limited his search for a building site to those located just outside of Seattle’s northern city limits (then drawn at 85th Street). This was in an effort to escape various harsh city ordinances that restricted public dancing and other nightlife activities. In the end Parker acquired a 5-acre plot at 170th Street on the "New Seattle-Everett Highway" and in 1929 construction got underway.

Parker's self-built hall was some sort of a remarkable architectural marvel: the thing was basically a 20,000 square foot wide-open dance floor with absolutely no posts obstructing. When Dick Parker's Pavilion opened for business in 1930, they kicked off a long streak of booking popular local acts (including Putt Anderson & his Dixieland Band, and orchestras led by Frankie Roth, Burke Garrett, and Max Pillar) and a number of national stars as Tommy Dorsey’s, Guy Lombardo’s, and Jan Garber's orchestras.

With alcohol Prohibition still in effect and the Great Depression dragging the economy down, times were so tough that by 1932 Parker had resorted to advertising his dancehall as “Dick Parker’s Roller Rink” in order to attract a different clientele -- skaters. Sometime after Parker passed on in 1940 (and with his wife Dodie following soon thereafter) the hall was inherited by family and one sister, Kelma Shoemaker, took over as manager.

Seattle's Segregated Music Scene

The years went by and the big-band dances continued, but by the mid-fifties a younger crowd was developing an interest in the new rockin’ R&B sounds that were gaining momentum. Although Seattle had a couple pioneering R&B acts active at the time, they were not being booked at Parker’s nor at other major halls. The main reason being: This was still a day and age when the town was saddled with two different -- and racially segregated -- musicians unions, each of which had their turf well marked. The bigger, and white, union (AFM No. 76) claimed the lucrative downtown hotels and ballrooms and north-end rooms while the other, black, union (AFM No. 493) necessarily settled for the nightclubs in the central city and the strip of rooms south of downtown spread along Jackson Street.

Times were changing though -- and in fact the two unions finally merged in 1956 -- but not without a few skirmishes. It was that year that KCPQ-TV (Channel 13) decided to produce a new teen-dance show, Rock 'n' Roll Party. The problem was, they’d chosen a black band (Billy Tolles & the Vibrators) as the program’s host band and they wanted to broadcast it live from Parker's -- a room that was traditionally within AFM No. 76’s “zone.”

The late Dave Lewis, another local black bandleader, once recalled that Parker’s also wanted to hire his combo for some shows, but the white union balked and pointedly reminded the hall’s management that the north-end was still their area and that the booking of black acts there just couldn’t be allowed without risking the mounting of a boycott picket-line. Parker’s brave reply was nonnegotiable: Either the union would overlook their hiring of Billy Tolles’ group and the Dave Lewis Combo or the hall would never hire local white musicians to perform there again. To Lewis’ recollections, accommodations were suddenly made and a new era began with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Party.

One Legendary Night

Meanwhile the top white teen band in town, the Frantics, became the first combo to sign a recording contract with the new local label, Dolton Records. Dolton had just gotten off to a remarkable start by issuing a No. 1 national hit by the Olympia-based teen vocal trio, the Fleetwoods. Then the label signed the Frantics (who also cut a few 45s that became national hits) and began booking the two acts together at live shows – including one legendary night at Parker’s. It was on February 21, 1959, that the Fleetwoods and Frantics both performed there as opening acts for a visiting star, Bobby Darin. And, in fact, the Frantics were actually hired to play with Darin who came out west without a band. The Frantics’ bassist, Jim Manolides, once recalled that:

“We got this job at Parker's on a Sunday night. We knew for several weeks that we got this big gig coming so we already knew his [hit] songs -- “Splish Splash,” “Plain Jane,” “Queen Of The Hop” -- but in this case we learned both sides of all his records! So, he brings his own piano player with him, Dick Berke, and we play Parker’s. He loved it! He was just thrilled! The place was packed! There were 1200 people. And after he does his little show he came and joined the band! He sang Ray Charles' "I've Got A Woman" with us and then he started playin' the piano a little bit and he was singin' -- and playin' the drums! He just loved it and had a really good time” (Interview).

Jerry Lee's Dance Shoes

By that point Parker's Ballroom was the hottest dancehall around, but then something occurred that caused the hall to suddenly ban rock 'n' roll shows outright. The last straw for management was the night that that Jerry Lee Lewis performed there. Besides whipping the crowd into a riotous frenzy, the maniacal Lewis also had the poor judgment to leap upon the house's new piano (as per his usual live routine) to dance. Well, so the story goes, Mrs. Shoemaker rushed out on the stage mid-song driving the rockabilly wildman down with a broom and publicly scolding him for scratching her instrument with his shoes.

As a direct result of that incident the management swore that there would henceforth be no more rock 'n' roll dances at Parker’s. This turn of events was a sore loss to area teens, but after a year passed one ambitious young band, the Viceroys, somehow convinced the house that their crowd was well-behaved and around late 1960 they were given one shot. The Viceroys -- and an audience that apparently understood what all was at stake -- managed to successfully pull off a dance that went without any untoward altercations. Rock 'n' roll was back to stay at Parker’s.

For years (after Prohibition ended in 1934) Parker’s existed as “bottle club” whereby customers brought in their own booze (kept in a brown paper bag under their tables) and the house sold them “set-ups” -- a glass half-full of ice and perhaps some mixer. This arrangement was the legally prescribed way of running a club right up until 1961 when political leaders (in anticipation of the throngs of visitors expected to attend the upcoming 1962 World’s Fair) loosened a number of overly-restrictive old laws pertaining to nightlife, including strict noise ordinances and rules for liquor establishments. As a result, Parker’s was among the many local rooms that were finally free to sell beer and/or other alcoholic beverages.

Teen-Dances of the Sixties

Around that same time, Parker’s and Shoemaker’s nephews, Vern Amondson and Skip Horn, took over management and teen-dances became a weekend staple there for years. Many nights saw crowds in excess of 1,000 show up to dance to hit acts like the Beach Boys and Them (w/ Van Morrison).

But mainly, it was the Northwest stars like Paul Revere & the Raiders, the Kingsmen, the Sonics, and the Wailers who fueled so many dances there over the years. But it was another local combo, the Dynamics, who were the hottest draw at the hall and after recording a gig there, the resultant The Dynamics with Jimmy Hanna LP was issued in 1964 to great success. The album’s liner notes (as penned by label head, Tom Ogilvy) accurately noted the band’s significant influence on locals:

“If you were at Parkers’ Ballroom in Seattle recently, then you witnessed a new trend. The Dynamics were present and smokin’ with a big band sound. This has become a regular event for various kinds of fans whether they be listeners, members of other musical groups or just people who like to burn by knee-poppin’ across the dance floor.”
The Dynamics were a genuine phenomena, their LP became an essential in the record collection of every fan of the horn-driven “Northwest Sound,” and Parker’s Ballroom became solidified as the center of the north-end’s teen-dance action.

From the Sixties to Psychedelic

As the years went by Parker’s would successfully weather the changing times -- but only by going through radical updates. In 1970 the hall was recast as the psychedelic black-light drenched Aquarius Tavern. And although its first scheduled dance in this new incarnation was a flop -- the Buddy Miles Express was a no-show -- the place succeeded very well over the years bringing in such acts that ranged from A–Z, including (to name but a few): Aerosmith, America, BTO, Badfinger, the Byrds, Albert Collins, the Guess Who, Albert King, the Ohio Players, Johnnie Otis, the Righteous Brothers, Al Stewart, George Strait, Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor, Toots and the Maytals, the Ventures, and Warren Zevon.

In addition, a whole new generation of local bands – including Burgundy Express, Bighorn, and a group called Heart -- developed sizeable fan-bases in part because of their Aquarius appearances. In fact, one of Heart’s shows there in 1975 was captured live on tape and a few years later (after they’d broken out as an international hit act) those recordings were issued on the Magazine LP. But there were many other legendary nights at the hall including the time several years later when Motown superstar Stevie Wonder made a surprise visit to sit in and sing a few songs with Bernadette Bascom and her funky dance band, Epicentre.

Reincarnations and Further Reincarnations

By 1980 the hall required some spiffing up and the owners committed themselves to a $1,000,000 remodel in an effort to revamp it as a full-blown "supper-club." With an all-new commercial kitchen, the renamed Parker’s Restaurant also continued to bring in major touring stars like Elvin Bishop, Blue Oyster Cult, Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, Crowded House, Joan Jett, B. B. King, Marshall Tucker, John Mayall, Simply Red, and Tina Turner.

In the 1990s, the building reincarnated yet again -- this time into a gambling joint called Parker’s Sports Bar & Casino. That business was closed in 2012, and the building was demolished that November. 

The Dynamics with Jimmy Hanna LP, The Dynamics, Bolo Records (BLP 8001), 1964; Sally McDonald, "Now It’s Parker’s Again and Dancing Cheek to Cheek," North Times, July 2, 1980; Rick Nelson, "Headliners At Parker’s Since ’71," Tacoma News Tribune, March 30, 1993; Pete Blecha Interviews with Skip Horn, October 5, 1989; Billy Tolles (The Vibrators), 1993, 2000; Dave Lewis, 1983-1995; Ron Woods, Terry Afdem, Jimmy Hanna (The Dynamics), 1983-1988; Jim Valley (The Viceroys), 1983; Jim Manolides, Ron Peterson (The Frantics), 1984-1998; Ann & Nancy Wilson (Heart), 1998; "Parker's Casino and Sports Bar May Be Headed for Demolition," Shoreline Area News, August 21, 2012 (; Skip Horn, email to, November 13, 2012, in possession of, Seattle, Washington.
Note: This essay was updated on November 14, 2012. By Peter Blecha, June 05, 2002


Tom Jamieson,  November 19, 2012 at 5:45 AM  

Superb history. Thanks for posting.

Anonymous,  November 19, 2012 at 10:56 AM  

& next it will be a car sad

Anonymous,  November 19, 2012 at 11:31 AM  

Went and saw B.B. King at Parkers in the 1980s, he was totally charming -- after the show he came out to meet people in the audience and chat.

Anonymous,  November 19, 2012 at 11:47 AM  

There's no room for nostalgia in Pottersville.

Janet Way November 19, 2012 at 12:35 PM  

Here, here! Hooray for this wonderful historical account of this unique piece of our history.

It is indeed sad that Parkers could not be saved somehow, and really a travesty to see how Shoreline is doing so little to preserve our history. But, thank goodness for the Shoreline Historical Museum keeping a record of this sad "progress."

But, the "powers that be" could truly have a pro-active plan for preserving and celebrating out history. We COULD create a historical district(s) or "Main Street" area in the Town Center to highlight these many historic elements that remain or are just below the surface.

Will the Shoreline City Council stand up for our community's uniqueness as a place to celebrate the history of transportation and commerce? At this time, it does not appear so. But it's not too late for someone to care.

How 'bout it Shoreline?

Anonymous,  November 19, 2012 at 12:48 PM  

Janet -
How would those ideas have saved Parkers? Chuck Olson Chev owns the property. Were you willing to force them to leave the building? Would you have tried to enforce some kind of "eminent domain"? Would you have wanted the City to purchase the building? Where would the money have come from when there isn't enough for sidewalks to and from schools?

It's easy to say "you do this", but where are the ideas to make it come about?

Anonymous,  November 19, 2012 at 1:02 PM  

@12:48 PM - the City has passed a resolution to use eminent domain over the entirety of Aurora Square, they even think they can take over the State of Washington Department of Transportation building -- I'd like to see that happen. Included is in this proposed eminent domain is a school that serves deaf children and stores that provide sales tax revenues, as if the City hasn't already chased off enough small business already with the Aurora Corridor project.

Tom Jamieson,  November 19, 2012 at 2:17 PM  

@12:48 PM -- Janet Way has worked harder than anyone to effect change in this City, while preserving its history and environment. While I do not always agree with her means, I admire her passion and tenacity. She has done more than her part. Time for the rest of us to do ours.

Anonymous,  November 19, 2012 at 2:39 PM  

Hi Tom - I'm not saying Janet hasn't worked hard. She is very passionate about her ideals. However, Parkers was private property. Is it up to us to dictate what Chuck Olson could do with the property or do they have the right to develop how they wish within the reasonable guide lines of the development code?

You are correct that it is time for "the rest of us to do ours". If you want to preserve a building or site, work to get the means to purchase it and then save it instead of lamenting that "the powers that be" didn't do it when they had no means to do so.

Anonymous,  November 19, 2012 at 3:06 PM  

@2:39 PM - how many people knew Chuck Olson Chevrolet owned the land and building that constituted Parkers? I would guess not that many...

Janet Way November 19, 2012 at 3:58 PM  

Dear All and Anonymous,

Well, I thank Tom for the compliment. And yes I have worked hard with others to try to save and improve things. Some success better than others.

And of course I was not advocating the City should have bought it. But, there were people who cared and wanted to either preserve Parkers or commemorate its significance. If some had started on this effort years ago and if the City had showed it cared then, perhaps a consensus could have been brought forth and an angel might have come in to make it viable. The City "fathers" have been out to destroy the casinos for a long, long time. This is just a fact, though they are of course happy to take the tax $$$!

Some years ago, local historians documented the history of our "Roadhouses" and what they meant to the development of this area. There are still a few left, such as the Drift On Inn and Echo Lake Tavern and Darrell's. And in North City there's the North City Tavern (I think it has a different official title.)

If the City had a "historic district" philosophy and code, more could be possible. Parts of the Red Brick Road are preserved though bifurcated. Our poor Ronald School is now gutted, but the shell remains.

A group I helped form called Shoreline Preservation Society has advocated some of these ideas and especially a "Centennial Walk" that could be created around the Town Center. (The RBR was started in 1912!!!)

So Shoreline, if you care about your soul, please care about your history. It's not just up to me, it is presumably up to those who've invested much in this City. Even Chuck Olsen. (I know he does care about Shoreline.)

Anonymous,  November 20, 2012 at 9:53 AM  

More Pics and History at this site

Chris A November 20, 2012 at 4:05 PM  

I wish more people had known about what was about to happen to Parkers. I had no idea. I imagine a very large donor would have helped. People here need to remember that our music is important worldwide, what we've created. It's far more important than a car lot and deserves to be remembered and cherished. many younger musicians in town have no idea how great this club was and are starving playing small places for free almost..very sad

Dave Green, Mukilteo,  November 25, 2012 at 2:48 PM  

11-25-12 @2:29PM Just returned from the rubble at the old Parkers Ballroom, very sad. My wife and I met at Parkers on Sept 15 1962 , a Friday nite. A friend emailed me this artical this morning and I had to have a piece of my history. I came home with three pieces of wood. My parents also went to Parkers in the 30s when it was a bottle club. I went to Roosevelt Hi and before I met My future Wife, my buddies and I would get a six pack and go to Golden Gardens and tip a few before going out to Parkers to meet girls. Instead of crying about it lets hear some good stories. Dave Green Class of 1963 Roosevelt Hi

Spartan Dude November 27, 2012 at 8:37 AM  

Most dance halls end their history by burning to the ground. As a Shoreline Fire Department Fire Marshal I always worried about a fire at Parkers. The bow string trusses which held up the roof would fail early during a fire and release the roof which would have put occupants in danger. Luckily no fire occurred.

Anonymous,  December 1, 2012 at 10:35 AM  

I too have memories of Parkers and my Dad also had as a young person saw and danced to big Bands of the 40's. I was the 60's and was also an Aquarius when the music was there, I was and the last was the best, Ray Charles when The Supper Club opened. What a dreanm to be within 30 feet of the great Ray Charles. I just hope it isn't going to be another uglt 6 storey apt house

Anonymous,  December 2, 2012 at 11:12 AM  

Parker's was not condemned, nor in need of that, or else the fire department would have done so.

Anonymous,  January 15, 2013 at 11:35 PM  

Finally got to add Parkers to the resume in the 90's, when I played there with Charlie & the Tunas.
Irv "the Squeakin' Deacon" Kellenberger

DKH January 16, 2013 at 5:57 AM  

Irv - would you like to write a story about it for the Shoreline Area News? Contact me.

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