CLEARVIEW — Amid clumps of trees and piles of stone ready for sale, a giant Ivar’s Clam perches on a pole. A bottle of Rainier Beer the size of a person sits in a garden. A 76 gas station ball painted like a globe looms over two giant urns from a Las Vegas hotel.
The newest addition to Jim McAuliffe’s eclectic collection is a 23-foot-tall bowling pin-shaped sign that summoned bowlers to Leilani Lanes in Seattle for more than 40 years.
McAuliffe plans to restore the cracked pin to its former glory, put lights in it and post it on a pole in front of Clearview Nursery &Stone, which his son, Dan, owns.
“It’ll be another piece that people drive in and they look at it and they remember,” said McAuliffe, patting the pin.
The 72-year-old has spent a half-century collecting antique cars, century-old tractors, a diverse assortment of treasures he simply calls “beautiful.” There’s a 1935 tomato-red airplane, a 1928 steamroller he shipped to Washington from Cape Town, South Africa, and a “Rarin’ to Go! Frontier” sign mounted with lights in the nursery. Inside garages he eagerly opens for free tours, McAuliffe keeps gas pumps that max out at $9.99, an old switch panel he says is from the house of William Boeing, founder of the aerospace company of the same name, a mannequin’s legs and hundreds of other items.
“I like everything,” he said, twirling around, admiring his collection. “I like it all!”
Drivers on Highway 9 lured by the nursery’s globe, tractors and windmill periodically pull over to gawk. They smile for photos in front of the clam and reminisce as they walk by memorabilia from defunct businesses. In the summer, they play bocce ball on the nursery’s grass field. If he’s there, McAuliffe invites them in.
“There’s definitely never a dull moment around here,” manager Susan Torchia said. “It’s kind of like a museum here. They spend hours. Photographers come out and take pictures.”
In addition the memorabilia at Clearview Nursery &Stone, McAuliffe has 15 antique cars in heated garages at the Bothell home he shares with his wife, Democratic state Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe. The couple also have old petroleum pumps, “Northern Exposure” set props and a toy museum at the Hollywood Schoolhouse, a renovated 1912 school they rent out for banquets in Woodinville.
“She comes home Friday night and I’m happy,” Jim McAuliffe said of his wife of 45 years. “When she leaves Monday morning, I’m happier because I get things done. I can collect.”
Retired for 20 years, McAuliffe spends the money he made owning various businesses and selling real estate on historic items to restore and preserve. The thrill of the hunt is what keeps him going, he said.
McAuliffe became obsessed with the bowling pin sign after reading that the developers who bought Leilani Lanes planned to scrap it to make room for an apartment complex. Three days in a row, he drove to the Greenwood construction site in north Seattle to gaze at the sign and search for someone willing to sell it. Finally, last Monday he found a crew and made a deal. He said he only paid the cost of hauling it away.
“It was gold,” he said of the sign. “I bought everyone a cup of coffee and when I was done, they said, ‘Jim, We’ll help you load it.’ That was a good price.”
Verl Lowry, general manager of Leilani Lanes’ sister alley, Sunset Bowl, was glad to hear of McAuliffe’s plans to preserve the sign.
The several-thousand pound sign had sat on top of Leilani Lanes since it opened in the early 1960s. Lowry said management had considered taking the sign down, but opted not to after researching the expense of hiring a crane to lift the pin over phone lines.
“I can never remember that place not having the sign on the roof,” he said. “I think it’s always good that history stays around somewhere.”
Reporter Kaitlin Manry: 425-339-3292 or email@example.com.