MOHAI’s new digs give Seattle history some breathing room

You know it’s a hip city when the first thing you see at its history museum is a neon beer sign and a fiberglass truck with fat pink toes.

And it gets better from there inside the new Lake Union digs of Seattle’s Museum of History &Industry, known as MOHAI.

In the atrium, the first Boeing plane hangs overhead and a 65-foot spiky wooden sculpture made from schooner planks perforates the ceiling.

Upstairs, there’s Nirvana music, a Lusty Lady sign, 99 bottles of beer on the wall and a replica of the duct-taped recliner from the TV show “Frasier.”

And, yeah, you can sit in that chair, and hold the stuffed version of Frasier’s dad’s dog Eddie on your lap.

This is a fun museum. So fun, in fact, that the movie about the 1889 fire that destroyed downtown Seattle (but took no lives) is a slapstick comedy.

The Seattle’s Great Fire gallery’s sound-and-light show, complete with the glue pot that started it all, is among the many highlights to behold.

The museum moved from smaller quarters in Seattle’s Montlake neighborhood to the 1940s art deco building that formerly served as the Naval Reserve Armory. It has 50,000 square feet of exhibit space — plenty of room to show off the big stuff, such as the 1920s UPS delivery truck and the funky pink Lincoln’s Toe Truck.

“They did a great job setting it up,” visitor Kathryn Hain Martin said.

That great job came with a $60 million restoration price tag.

The museum has a cafe, gift shop, conference rooms and rooftop deck. Rooms have stunning views of the harbor, with window etchings that accent the maritime romance of the region.

The city’s timeline is exhibited on multilevels in multimedia from sticky notes to touch screens and in galleries that from Gold Rush to Tech City.

To prevent sensory overload, the museum is arranged in a maze of galleries and towers. Tower themes include: Boeing Takes Off, Seattle’s World’s Fairs and The Microsoft Story.

There’s a nice balance between new and old. On display are some of those stiff black-and-white family portraits where nobody smiled.

Down the hall, Elvis Presley gyrates on one of the silver screens in the Celluloid Seattle exhibit, which has vintage theater seats, drive-in speakers and a cigarette machine.

Seattle iconic artifacts in the museum include: the SuperSonics NBA Championship trophy in a sports gallery, a World War II rivet gun, a first-generation Kindle E-reader and the original Starbucks sign.

The list goes on …

Plan to spend a few hours and not see everything. You’ll want to come back for more.

Andrea Brown; 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com.

Exhibits

Celluloid Seattle: A City at the Movies, through Sept. 8. Curated by The Herald’s movie critic, Robert Horton, it shows Seattle in the movies and how the idea of “going to the movies” has changed.

Punctum/Poetry, through May 27. MOHAI’s historic photo collection is showcased in poetry and the spoken word produced by high school students.

Still Afloat: Seattle’s Floating Homes, on display June 15 to Nov. 3. Centered on the floating home community, with photos, oral histories, diagrams and a scale model floating home.

Upcoming event: Parents Night Out: 6 to 9 p.m. March 29. Kids, ages 5 and older, will make cardboard cars for a “drive-in” and then watch a movie.

If you go

Where: 860 Terry Ave. N., Seattle (in Lake Union Park).

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; open until 8 p.m. Thursdays

Closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day

Cost: Adults, $14; senior (65 and older)/student/military, $12; no charge for ages 14 and younger, with adult. Free admission the first Thursday of every month.

For more information: www.mohai.org

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