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Owner hopes to reopen historic Twin Teepees, Sept. 1


Ed Johnson shares the sentiment of many other longtime patrons of the Twin Teepees, the historic Green Lake area restaurant that closed after suffering damage from a fire on June 1.

Concerned about when the restaurant will reopen, Johnson recently stopped by the landmark establishment across the street from Green Lake. What he found were locked doors and two empty teepee structures.

Growing up near Sea-Tac airport, Johnson recalls making trips up Highway 99 (also known as Aurora Avenue) with his family in the early 1940s to eat at Twin Teepees, at 7201 Aurora Ave. N. He hopes repairs to the restaurant will be completed soon so that he can take a friend to dinner there. "This place is a landmark. It has to reopen," says Johnson.

Twin Teepees first opened in 1937 and was one of a dozen Seattle area restaurants owned by Walter Clark. Prefabricated parts were shipped from San Francisco and then put together to resemble Native American teepees.

Rob Pierides, current landlord and former owner of Twin Teepees, says Clark got the idea for the restaurant from "roadside art" in Southern California. In the 1930s, the automobile was a new thing and Highway 99, which runs adjacent to Twin Teepees, was the main north-south freeway in the region.

The restaurant was designed to attract families who were out for a drive in their new vehicles. "The idea was to build something way out of the ordinary," says Pierides.

In 1941, Clark received a call from an Army friend of his, Col. Harland Sanders, who had been stationed at Fort Lewis in Tacoma and was looking for a civilian job. Soon, Sanders was a cook at Twin Teepees.

As stories go, Sanders perfected a certain fried chicken recipe while working in the kitchen at Twin Teepees. However, Pierides says that this may be a legend that has grown over time.

What is known for sure is that after two years at Twin Teepees, Sanders moved to Kentucky and started a restaurant of his own called Kentucky Fried Chicken, which grew to become a successful fast-food chain now known as KFC.

Over the years, Twin Teepees has secured a loyal clientele. Pierides has seen many families grow up as grandparents bring their children and grandchildren in regularly.

Pierides got a phone call one night in 1990 from a man in Houston who wanted to reserve the fire side table at Twin Teepees the following week. The 80-year-old man said that he and his wife were flying into Seattle on their own jet plane and taking a limousine to Twin Teepees in honor of their 50th wedding anniversary.

Sure enough, a week later, a stretch limousine pulled up to the restaurant and the couple took their seat at the fire side table where the man had proposed to his wife 50 years before. Playing on the loudspeaker was specially requested big band music. In celebration of the anniversary, the man picked up the tab for everyone in the restaurant that night.

The fire on June 1 didn't destroy the building, but there is significant smoke damage to several walls. Pierides is in the process of assessing the damage and figuring out what needs to be done to bring the restaurant up to code.

Originally, the restaurant was scheduled to be closed for only a few weeks. The target date for reopening is now Sept. 1.

Twin Teepees holds special memories for many people. "The people that have been coming here for years, they really want to see it reopened," says Pierides.