All Over The Map: Local ‘geographic insults’ you won’t find on a map
Google or even printed maps are handy for finding addresses, and for getting around busy streets or through neighborhoods and towns, large and small, all over the Puget Sound area.
But beyond the official names for these streets and towns, there are sometimes “unofficial” names that won’t turn up on maps of any kind. These nicknames are often far more colorful and illustrative of local history and culture, if also a bit hurtful or even downright offensive to some.
For this edition of All Over The Map, we look at a sampling of the geographic insults that some cities, neighborhoods and institutions have, at one time or another, had to put up with … and maybe still have to put up with in 2019.
A name sometimes used for the southeast King County community of Enumclaw, which is just a cheap play on words for the “claw” part of the name of this home to the King County Fair.
For how remote that place was and how little there was to do there, this is what the Grant County town of Moses Lake was allegedly named by Army Air Force guys stationed there during World War II at the old Larsen Air Force Base.
There is some haziness around this one. Was it for Houghton Beach, or another nearby swimming area in Kirkland, because of the treated sewage that was used there as fertilizer back in the 1970s? Supposedly, tomato seeds survived the treatment process, and plants miraculously emerged from where the fertilizer had been applied.
Another version says that this inadvertent agriculture took place at Seattle’s Gas Works Park. It’s also believed that “tomato” was applied, in the case of summer days at the beach, as vernacular for the attractive, swimsuit-clad young women who could often be found there.
The Herpes Triangle
The unfortunate choice of the name of a sexually-transmitted disease (along with a nod to the Bermuda Triangle) for the South Lake Union area back in the 1980s came from the lively singles scene there in and around the lounges at a number of restaurants. Web searches turn up similarly named areas in San Francisco, Sacramento, the Bronx and Indianapolis.
This alliterative nickname for City Hall Park – evoking a fortified wine made from Muscat grapes that was popular in the 1930s – came about long, long ago for obvious reasons. This park is adjacent to the King County Courthouse (once a combined city and county administration building, which accounts for the official, if now somewhat confusing, “City Hall Park” name). For decades it has been a place where inebriated people would spend much of the day. This name is not exclusive to Seattle, and was applied in other cities in other parts of the country, too, including California.
Pill Hill isn’t really an insult, but is instead a nod to the hospitals and other medical establishments located on Seattle’s First Hill. The Seattle Times first used “Pill Hill” in print in 1960, but the name likely dates to much earlier.
This earlier name was also given to First Hill, supposedly because an old 19th century courthouse at 7th and Yesler meant a steep and tiring walk that made out-of-shape lawyers cuss. Used in-print extensively by The Seattle Times as early as the 1890s.
This nickname for neighborhoods with significant populations of gay men has been applied to areas of Los Angeles, San Francisco and, perhaps as early as the 1970s to Seattle’s Capitol Hill.
A stretch of Rainier Valley in South Seattle, at least in the area around Sicks Stadium, was called this for the large Italian-American population who settled there around the turn of the 20th century.
This slight rise overlooked the wall of the old Sicks Stadium (where the Lowe’s store now stands) along Rainier Avenue, home of the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League beginning in the late 1930s (and, for the 1969 season, the Seattle Pilots of the American League). Games could be viewed from here for free.
USC (University of Southern Crossroads)
This California-inspired nickname poked fun at the broad admission standards at Bellevue Community College (what’s now called Bellevue College) and allowed high school students on the Eastside to make self-deprecating jokes about their plans for higher education, as in “Hey, after I graduate from Lake Washington High School, I’m going to go to USC next fall.”
This nickname for White Center may be from a military abbreviation for a facility that operated there during World War II, or it may be from a large population of rodents. Either way, the name has been lovingly embraced by many, and even co-opted as form of White Center pride (and, of course, taken up by the Rat City Rollergirls of local roller derby fame).
Armpit of the Northwest
This name has been applied to at least a few places – such as Burien – though it has most often been used for Tacoma, because of the “Tacoma Aroma” (or “Aroma Tacoma”) from the city’s multiple sulphur-emitting paper pulp mills. To Tacoma’s credit, the scent has diminished drastically in recent years.
This is what many people called Mercer Island as early as the 1970s, for all the rich people who settled there, though it may have specifically (or at least initially) been directed at the spoiled Mercedes-driving teens of Mercer Island High School who ventured to punk shows and other Seattle gatherings in the early 1980s.
Do you know of any additional historic or contemporary “Geographic Insults” or even just colorful nicknames for local places, past or present? Please share in the comments below or email to [email protected] for use in a follow-up edition of All Over The Map.