All Over The Map: Roadside holiday signs live on in Everett

Dec 18, 2020, 5:36 AM | Updated: 8:41 am

Anyone who’s driven on I-5 between Everett and Marysville around the holiday season in the past 56 years or so has probably seen them. Looking to the west from the busy lanes in the vicinity of several sloughs the highway crosses in that area, two low-key but reliable decorative signs have been a dependable fixture – and dependable source of mild holiday cheer – for generations of drivers.

The forgotten designer behind Seattle’s most iconic neon signs

Steward of the signs is Buse Timber, a company specializing in milling large pieces of lumber – big timbers – used in all kinds of construction projects around the Pacific Northwest. The company was founded in 1946 by brothers Del and Norm Buse; Del’s son Dave Buse sold it to a group of employees in 2004.

Del’s grandson – and Dave’s son – Kevin Buse shared photos his father took of the holiday signs back in the glory years. One sign said “Season’s Greetings,” the other said “Peace on Earth, good will to men.” What was always refreshingly un-commercial about both holiday signs is the fact that they completely obscured the regular “Buse Timber” signs to which they were attached for a month or so each year.

Kevin Buse’s aunt, Janet Buse Hallauer, grew up on the family property where the mill still stands, but now lives in Mukilteo. She told KIRO Radio in an email:

“The ‘new’ mill was built in the early 60’s from what was originally a haybarn. I believe that the signs originated soon after that. They expressed my dad Del Buse’s and his brother Norm’s wishes, not just for the community and those passing by, but also to the employees and their families. I’m glad that the new ownership still puts them up.”

The Buse family is pretty certain that the holiday signs first went on display in 1964, around the same time that I-5 was built. They credit Norm and Del with the idea, but say it was Mike Buse who made it happen.

Tom Parks first went to work for the Buse family in 1980 when he was 22. He’s one of the employees who purchased the business 16 years ago, and is now president of Buse Timber. Parks told KIRO Radio that he used to get phone calls from people complaining about the decorative holiday signs – some who said they were too religious, others who said they weren’t religious enough.

Meanwhile, a decade or so ago, the full-sized plywood holiday signs from the Buse family era had worn out. Parks replaced with them smaller banners reading “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays.” Then, a few years ago, because of the complaints and because the banners, too, had become somewhat tattered, Parks says the company stopped displaying any decorations along the freeway, period. This year, short-handed because of the pandemic, the maintenance staff at Buse Timber didn’t even think about installing the banners.

But then, after he was gently prodded by an irritatingly self-righteous history radio reporter, Parks – who’s obviously a good-natured and community-minded guy – had the Buse Timber maintenance staff install the banners earlier this week.

In an email to KIRO Radio that included photos of the banners, Parks wrote: “We did get them up, but as you can tell, we need to do some work on our signs once things get back to normal.”

They may not be as iconic or instantly recognizable as the Bon Marché star, but thanks first to the Buse family and now to Tom Parks and his crew, the Buse Timber roadside holiday decorations have rightfully earned their place in Northwest history.

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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All Over The Map: Roadside holiday signs live on in Everett