Ron “Nardo” Nardone walks in front of his replica Shell service station on the NardoLand grounds in Maltby. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Ron “Nardo” Nardone walks in front of his replica Shell service station on the NardoLand grounds in Maltby. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Take a peek inside the wacky, wonderful world of ‘NardoLand’

Maltby’s Ron “Nardo” Nardone has spent a lifetime collecting signs, vintage gas pumps and a whole heckuva lot more.

  • By Megan Campbell Special to The Herald
  • Sunday, September 1, 2019 2:52pm
  • LifeBothellMonroe

By Megan Campbell

Special to The Herald

The property off Paradise Lake Road in the Maltby area is like no other.

Despite the “no trespassing” signs, passersby can’t help but pull into the driveway, antique gas station pumps beckoning them forward, to a green gate barring entrance to a land where relics from an age gone by rest.

A tiny barbershop, marked by its red-and-white striped, rotating sign, sits to the right of the main house. These are just two of the 10 buildings dotting the 12-acre property. But the buildings are not the main attraction; rather, it’s the stuff around them — like a 14-foot-tall chicken on top of a massive KFC bucket.

The owners may call it “NardoLand,” but it’s not an amusement park.

A giant eagle — a rare item from the long-gone automotive service company Richfield Oil Corp. — looks over the entrance to Ron “Nardo” and Sally-Jo Nardone’s home from its perch on the garage, surrounded by classic signs like an 8-foot-by-4-foot 1930s Coca Cola sign, which is one of only a thousand made.

Behind that, Nardo’s Shell Service stands, decorated with old Shell Gas Station signs and pumps. Inside this building, the Nardones’ collection dates back to their high school years, with memorabilia and old buses from Bothell and Ballard high schools. Outside the building are field goal uprights and a score clock from Bothell High.

Ron Nardone peeks out the window of a coffee stand in the shape of a giant red coffee cup. It’s one of many unique structures at NardoLand. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Ron Nardone peeks out the window of a coffee stand in the shape of a giant red coffee cup. It’s one of many unique structures at NardoLand. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Ron, a 1961 Bothell High School graduate, displays other high school relics at yearly class reunions, where he and schoolmates gather for a trip down memory lane. Along with decades-old cheer uniforms and yearbooks on display, hundreds of license plates — representing states from Hawaii to New York — wooden-handled ice cream scoops and Disney lunch boxes from the 1950s and ’60s decorate the walls.

Every square inch of this building, and the rest, is covered in vintage signage or classic collectibles. And this is only a small portion of NardoLand.

Ron began collecting signs in the 1950s. His father let him store them in his garage. At one point, his dad — concerned or, perhaps, half-joking — suggested Ron see a therapist about his habit.

Ron didn’t go see the shrink, but he does jokingly admit that, “My elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor.”

The sign welcoming visitors to NardoLand, which has hosted events such as weddings but is not open to drop-ins. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The sign welcoming visitors to NardoLand, which has hosted events such as weddings but is not open to drop-ins. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A landlord by trade, Ron began buying up property in the Bothell, Woodinville and Maltby areas in the 1960s. That’s where he first met Sally-Jo.

“(My grandfather) always told me, ‘Buy dirt, boy. Buy dirt,’” Ron said.

And so he did.

Back then, he could get property for $30,000 to $40,000 — real estate that goes for more than $600,000 today.

“Ground was cheap,” Ron said.

He and Sally-Jo bought the first of three plots of what would become “NardoLand” more than 20 years ago. They built their current house in the early 2000s.

Ron Nardone talks about his collection of license plates, just a small bit of the stuff he has amassed since he starting collecting signs in the 1950s. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Ron Nardone talks about his collection of license plates, just a small bit of the stuff he has amassed since he starting collecting signs in the 1950s. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

They got together in the mid-1980s, when Sally-Jo, who now maintains the gardens where 1940s tractors sit among the daffodils, was renting a home in Maltby from Ron. In addition to being his tenant, Sally-Jo was his barber.

After about a year, Ron, having gone through a divorce, asked Sally-Jo on a date. She was sick with pneumonia, so he brought her soup, throat lozenges, aspirin and flowers.

They dated for 19 years before he proposed to her in the kitchen of their new home.

“He’s the best thing that ever happened to me and my family,” said Sally-Jo, who has three grown children.

Ron dotes on his wife. He says that out of everything on the property, Sally-Jo is the most cherished.

A large chicken sits on top of a KFC bucket on the NardoLand grounds. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A large chicken sits on top of a KFC bucket on the NardoLand grounds. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Other notable structures in NardoLand are the metal dinosaur in front of the house, the red espresso stand from the old Maltby school yard, the Lorax (a Dr. Seuss character) in the tree protecting the gardens, the walk-in red NardoLand mailbox and the colorful fire hydrants lining the path to the outdoor theater. There’s also a set of giant silverware, if you can spot them, scattered around.

The property has been a place for weddings and funerals alike. A couple years ago, it was one of five stops on the Woodinville Garden Club’s Tour of Gardens.

“Over 1,000 people came through here,” Sally-Jo said. “They didn’t want to leave.”

Ron added, “A couple people came back through.”

Ron, 76, and Sally-Jo, 71, have slowed down over the years. They say they’re going to need help taking care of the place soon. It takes eight hours to mow the lawn alone.

But, “(Ron) loves doing it,” said a longtime family friend, Alan “Speck” Strand.

“They work tirelessly,” said Strand’s wife, Nancy.

A phone booth sits in the foreground while large signs cover the front of one of the many buildings at NardoLand. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A phone booth sits in the foreground while large signs cover the front of one of the many buildings at NardoLand. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Alan went to high school with Ron. They’ve been friends for more than 50 years.

“(Ron’s) helped more people than you can shake a stick at,” Alan said. “Ron’s an outstanding citizen.”

Ron, a towering 6-foot-4-incher with a gray beard, happily talks about the history of the items and structures in NardoLand. But he doesn’t like to talk about himself and his role in the community, or that he’s been recognized on the Northshore School District’s Wall of Honor.

“He doesn’t brag,” Alan said.

For being a “selfless community and youth activist,” Ron was inducted into the Wall of Honor in 2016.

Antique signs hang next to a makeshift diner booth set up in one of the buildings at NardoLand. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Antique signs hang next to a makeshift diner booth set up in one of the buildings at NardoLand. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“After Army service in Vietnam, Nardone founded a construction company, revitalized the Maltby community, mentored people of all ages and built a monument to local nostalgia,” the Northshore School District’s website states. “The latter project began with Nardone’s love of sports and support of local athletics. After buying up much of old Maltby, he opened the school gym to anyone for drop-in basketball, helped launch a semi-pro team and was a player/coach for 25 years.”

The Strands and the Nardones still like to get together, though it’s hard to pull Ron and Sally-Jo away from NardoLand sometimes.

But Strand knows his friend’s weak spot.

“As long as I say ‘banana cream pie,’ Ron’s on his way.”

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This article is featured in the fall issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.

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