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All Over The Map: Best and worst Northwest city slogans

When they work, city slogans and mottoes help attract visitors and investors, and hopefully don't inspire chuckles or eye-rolling; Yakima has long called itself "The Palm Springs of Washington." (Wikimedia Commons)

When they work, official slogans or mottoes for cities help attract visitors and investors. At the very least, they hopefully won’t inspire chuckles or eye rolls from the locals.

In the Northwest, early “slogan wars” date back to the time of rivalries between newly-established communities in what’s now the state of Washington. Competing against one another and jockeying to secure economic plums from private business and government meant more than just civic pride was on the line; those plums often translated into even more people, money, and growth for the winning town.

The more modern era of civic slogan-making might be traced to the late 1970s, when the “I love New York” logo was designed and a marketing campaign was launched to attract tourists to the then-beleaguered city.

Seattle: The Emerald City

A few years after New York’s campaign was launched, a contest was held to choose a slogan for Seattle. The winner – “Emerald City” – was announced in the late summer of 1981. There were 13,000 entries to the contest, a staggering 425 of which were “Emerald City.” The phrase emphasized the city’s lush greenery, but also alluded to the gleaming urban headquarters of the wizard in “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Emerald City” was officially adopted by the city in September 1981, and most would agree that it’s worked out pretty well ever since. The phrase lent itself to many cute advertisements and promotions, as well as to clever “interpretations,” such as painting a “Wizard of Oz”-inspired yellow-brick road on the asphalt pathway leading to the old Kingdome.

Tourism was not a huge business in Seattle in 1981 – accounting for less than $1 million of annual business that year – but it definitely grew in the 1980s and 1990s. So much so, that before the pandemic, tourism had become a multi-billion dollar industry in the Emerald City.

Did the nickname help? Probably, but so did construction of the Washington State Convention Center downtown, and securing of big events like the Final Four. Seattle’s cultural rise through music and movies in the 1990s certainly didn’t hurt, either.

Earlier, perhaps as early as 1870, Seattle was justifiably known as the “Queen City” for its leadership role in commerce in the Northwest. The term was first used in comparison to other communities on Puget Sound, and then among cities of Washington Territory. Though this royally-tinged name was never official, it was used widely by journalists and other boosters, and there are still some businesses and organizations — Queen City Yacht Club, for example — where it persists to this day.

In 1913, along with an effort to name the Dahlia the official city flower, the nickname “The City Beautiful” was also officially adopted by Seattle. This name never really caught on, nor did the 1946 follow-up try: “The City of Flowers.” With Portland known as “The Rose City,” perhaps the failed bloom of these earlier efforts in the future Emerald City was for the best.

Another unofficial nickname for Seattle was “Jet City,” for the obvious Boeing reasons dating to the 1950s, and is currently in use by some businesses and organizations. The nickname is a little muddled, as “Jet City” was also used variously by Renton and Kent in the 1960s.

Tacoma (or Wichita?): City of Destiny

Tacoma and Seattle were rivals in the 1870s as each sought to be chosen as terminus for the transcontinental Northern Pacific Railroad. The selection process was pretty much rigged all along – that is, that the Northern Pacific would choose Tacoma – because the railroad owned a lot of the real estate there and stood to gain the most by the boom and property price increases that would come with the promise of the tracks. This was around the same time that the Northern Pacific was trying to change the name of Mount Rainier to Mount Tacoma, as Native groups and others are now once again proposing – though for much different reasons than the railroad 150 years ago.

In that earlier era, the “City of Destiny” – slogan and town – were promoted by an eccentric gentleman with connections to Tacoma named George Francis Train. Even without Train’s quirkiness, other local cities took frequent potshots at the town and its aspirational motto.

One of the best of these ribbings came in 1888, when a Spokane paper quoted a Port Townsend publication:

“Tacoma papers seem to be fond of speaking of that city as the ‘City of Destiny.’ The Port Townsend Argus asks: ‘Pray tell us, destined to what? Sodom and Gomorrah were cities of destiny.’”

Around that same time, the city of Wichita, Kansas, objected to Tacoma’s use of the phrase and threatened legal action. In 1887, a newspaper in Wichita said the phrase was:

“[A]ppropriated and copyrighted by the original and only real City of Destiny of the west, Wichita; and we hereby notify [George Francis Train] that further use of the words, insignia, appellation or expression ‘City of Destiny’ in connection with the name of any other city, place or locality other than Wichita, will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Tacoma kept using “City of Destiny” and does so to this day, but it appears that Wichita never followed through on its legal threat. It also appears that leaders of Wichita, the largest city in Kansas, gave up on using “City of Destiny” themselves.

Our own local “City of Destiny” did get that coveted Northern Pacific terminus, but Seattle still managed to outpace Tacoma in most measures of growth — and to eventually get its own railroad connections, notably via the Great Northern.

Bothell: For a day or a lifetime

A petitioner recently tried to bring back this sign on the outskirts of this north King County town that once read, “WELCOME TO BOTHELL, for a day or a lifetime.”

Circa 1980, vandals removed or covered up the “BOT” letters, so the sign instead welcomed people to “HELL” for that same 24 hours or 70 some years. A photo of the sign was shared nationally, pre-Internet, on the old “Real People” program on NBC.

Some other notable local official and unofficial mottoes and slogans include:

Bellevue – “City in a Park

Renton – “Ahead of the Curve

Edmonds – “It’s an Edmonds kind of day,”  or the even more inscrutable “Welcome to Ed!

Lynnwood – “A Great Deal More

Kent – “Bringing the World Home

Marysville – “The Strawberry City

Everett – “Be Surprised!

Wenatchee – “Apple Capital of the World

Auburn – “Little Detroit of the West

Redmond – “Bicycle Capital of the Northwest

If there are other notable slogans worth highlighting – or if you have family-friendly suggestions for alternates, or for communities currently lacking an official motto – please reach out via my contact information below.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News and read more from him here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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