Kirkland was like home to Steve Raible and the Seahawks
Kirkland has changed a lot since the Seahawks’ original headquarters and practice facility opened in 1976 at what’s now Carillon Point, at the site of the old Lake Washington Shipyard in the Houghton neighborhood.
The reason the Seahawks picked Kirkland, rather than Bellevue, was because of one of the team owners, Ned Skinner. Skinner’s family owned the old “Skinner & Eddy” shipyards in Seattle, going back to the turn of the 20th century, and had purchased the old Lake Washington Shipyard with the intention of someday developing a marina there.
In 1976, the shipyard property was mostly vacant, with derelict vessels, including an old ferryboat, tied up at the decaying pier.
Ample lakeside real estate at the old shipyard meant plenty of room for football practice fields with real grass. Newspaper accounts at the time say that the team also had the option of practicing in the old Kingdome with its artificial grass, but that coaches preferred the real stuff for each week’s complement of drills and scrimmages.
Voice of the Seahawks Steve Raible was a rookie in that inaugural 1976 season, and the Kentucky native and Georgia Tech standout receiver still has fond memories of the then-sleepy community by the lake.
“Kirkland was literally just that little village down there with a few old storefronts,” Raible said, with an old J. C. Penney department store and other retail and restaurants typical of a 1970s suburb. He says it made sense for players to live in Kirkland or nearby in order to be close to work.
“I got a little apartment in Kirkland, a little one bedroom,” he recalled.
The building is still there, and no, Raible says when asked, there’s no commemorative plaque.
“I don’t remember the name of [the apartment complex] now, but I only lived there for five months” during the Seahawks’ first season.
In the offseason, Raible’s early Seahawk years included a part-time job at a local bar and restaurant. The topic of NFL players working in the offseason came up when Joel McHale filled in as Raible’s co-host for radio coverage of a pre-season game against the Los Angeles Chargers in August.
“What was the weirdest job you had in the offseason, because players had to work?” McHale asked.
“Well, most of us did,” Raible said, “[Quarterback Jim] Zorn didn’t. [Hall of Fame wide receiver] Largent didn’t. The rest of us did. I was a bartender for a couple years.”
“Where?” said McHale.
“A place called Hector’s in Kirkland,” said Raible.
“Still there?” said McHale.
“Still there,” Raible replied.
“I hope you get free drinks when you go in there,” McHale said.
“They don’t know who I am,” Raible admitted.
Raible says his association with Hector’s was a big part of his early years in the Seattle area.
“A lot of us used to eat breakfast at Hector’s all the time, and I got to know the owner, and his name was Vern Conrad,” Raible said. “Vern and Betty Conrad owned that place and they could not have been nicer folks, and they loved having us [Seahawks] guys down there … not so much during the season, but on our night off, you’d go down there, maybe have dinner and grab a couple of beers or something. So I got to know those guys really well.”
Vern Conrad eventually offered Steve a job helping build the bar at Hector’s, and clearing an area next to the building to create an outdoor seating area, initially paying him in meals and drinks.
This eventually led to a more formal job tending bar.
“[Vern] said it would be great — the fans would love to come in and just see and talk to you at the bar,” Raible said. “And so I said ‘sure.’ I started tending bar three nights a week during the offseason. Never had tended bar in my life, could not mix a bourbon and water, but I learned quickly.”
Raible says that Hector’s clientele was more of a beer and margarita crowd, and it wasn’t a place for exotic cocktails. But sometimes, a customer would order something a little unusual.
“I remember vividly a very nice elderly couple came in, and I remember them sitting up by the window,” Raible said. “And so I went over and put a couple of little coasters down and I said, ‘What can I get for you guys?’”
“[The man] said, ‘We’d like a couple of grasshoppers,’ and I said, ‘I beg your pardon? and [then] I said, ‘Okay, I’ll be right back.’”
“Now, my mom didn’t raise any fools,” Raible said. “So I had a mixed-drink book behind the bar.”
Raible says he looked up ‘Grasshopper’ and thought “OK, well that doesn’t look as complicated as it sounded.’ I think it was something like Creme de Menthe and Creme de Cacao, on and over, blended,” Raible said.
Later, the couple told Raible that the drinks he’d made for them were the best Grasshoppers they had ever had.
“That’s because [the drinks] were probably too strong and [the man and woman] were very, very nice,” Raible said.
Steve Raible worked at Hector’s for a couple of years, until sometime around 1979. That was around the time when he started doing fill-in work on KIRO Radio’s long-running old Sportsline evening talk show, before ultimately transitioning to KIRO TV after his final season with the Seahawks in 1981.
Seahawks in Kirkland
Meanwhile, time keeps moving on in Kirkland. The Seahawks moved from the old shipyard to the campus of Northwest College in 1986, and then to the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, to another former industrial site along Lake Washington in 2008.
Hector’s is still there and still in business, but the restaurant has changed hands over the years. And the décor has changed a bit, too, with some Seahawk photos of Steve and his teammates no longer on display.
“I think the last time I was in there — I had met somebody down there for lunch or something — and I noticed they took the pictures down,” Raible said. “I asked, ‘Hey, whatever happened to those [pictures], and the waitperson there at the time, she said, ‘Oh, gosh. I have no idea. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen them.’”
Does Raible think the classic old Seahawk images from Hector’s were saved and are maybe now on display in the den or rumpus room of some dedicated 12?
“They probably ended up in the dumpster somewhere,” Raible said, matter-of-factly, clearly not perturbed that the bar didn’t become a shrine.
A quick check at Hector’s earlier this week confirms that there are indeed no Seahawks photos on display. And, Raible’s comment made during that August game that the bar’s current ownership doesn’t know who he is might be at least partially true.
A Hector’s staff person appeared to have a vague idea of the restaurant’s connection to those early Seahawks Kirkland years, but wasn’t much interested in talking about what significance that connection might have now from a historical standpoint.
Meanwhile, several blocks south at Carillon Point, a knowledgeable 50-something barista was thrilled to recall that particular piece of real estate’s ties to the early Seahawks. She also speculated that maybe only one in 10 of her customers has any idea that the team’s headquarters were once there.
On a railing overlooking the marina, there is an interpretive panel describing shipyard history, but the Seahawks part of the story does not appear to be commemorated anywhere.
Kirkland has obviously changed, and Steve Raible says many things have also changed for NFL players since he first suited up more than 40 years ago. Salaries are such that offseason jobs aren’t a necessity, and social media has affected the nature of the relationships between players and fans, especially in the communities where players live and work.
In the late 1970s, Raible and the other Seahawks were able to live in and around Kirkland and do their (admittedly very specialized) work there, without getting hassled.
“We’d run from the Kirkland facility during those years of training and offseason and stuff, and we take off and go run all the way down from the facility all the way to Juanita and back some days,” Raible said. “Here’s a line of five or six guys in, in those days, the old short-shorts and high white socks and t-shirts, having just gotten done lifting weights. And here we all go, running down the street, just to go out for a long run, and sometimes people would go by and they’d beep their horn.”
And though the photos and the reverence for the Seahawks may be gone from the walls of Hector’s, the great memories remain for Steve Raible.
“To a person, everybody was great,” Raible said. “And we felt a real home in Kirkland.”