Update: Cold War air raid siren remains in private hands

Apr 13, 2024, 11:20 AM | Updated: 12:47 pm

Image: This is a vintage magazine ad for the type of Cold War air raid siren which stood in a Seatt...

This is a vintage magazine ad for the type of Cold War air raid siren which stood in a Seattle park for more than 70 years, and which now belongs to Binford Metals in Kent. (Public domain photo)

(Public domain photo)

A vintage Cold War air raid siren that stood atop a tower in a Seattle park for more than 70 years remains in the hands of a private salvage yard in Kent. And that’s where the man who now owns the giant artifact says it’s going to stay.

As KIRO Newsradio first reported earlier this week, Seattle Parks and Recreation in March removed a rare old Cold War air raid siren from Northacres Park near the Northgate neighborhood, and it ended up at a private business called Binford Metals in Kent.

Seattle Parks told KIRO Newsradio they had offered the siren to two museums who both declined. As it turned out, those offers were made roughly five years ago, and one of the two museums – the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) in Seattle – told KIRO Newsradio earlier this week that they never got their questions about the siren answered, and thus never said “no” to the offer of the siren.

On Wednesday, KIRO Newsradio learned that the other museum Seattle Parks contacted roughly five years ago is the Veteran’s Memorial Museum in Chehalis. Director Chip Duncan says he was told by Seattle Parks the museum would have to pay all removal costs, which is why Duncan’s museum did officially say “no” to Seattle Parks’ offer.

Earlier coverage: City of Seattle sends Cold War artifact to the dump

In an email to Seattle Parks’ media relations team Wednesday, KIRO Newsradio asked how much they paid contractor Ascendant Demolition to remove the siren and tower. As of Friday morning, that email remains unanswered.

The amount Seattle Parks paid is an important point. According to Duncan, if Seattle Parks had paid for the removal, that might have meant the Veterans Museum saying “yes” to the siren donation.

As reported Wednesday, a Seattle high school student named Nathan Veress was hoping that Dave Binford, owner Binford Metals, would be willing to donate the siren to a nonprofit museum.

Veress, a junior at Seattle’s Bishop Blanchet High School, says he would happily pound the pavement to find a museum to officially take possession, and he would gladly raise the money required to perform a museum-quality full restoration to bring the siren back to its original appearance, and to make it fully operational. Veress did exactly this in 2023 with a smaller World War II siren from Seattle City Light.

Late Thursday, the 17-year-old reached Dave Binford by phone. Veress was hoping to arrange a visit this weekend to see the siren in person, and to discuss his hopes of finding a museum partner.

“I just pretty much asked him, ‘Hey, are you, like, interested in possibly donating it to a museum?'” Veress told KIRO Newsradio Thursday evening as he described his conversation with Dave Binford. “He was pretty much just like, ‘Not really … We have an extra, like, exact Hemi engine sitting around.’ They’re gonna throw that in and I think they think it’s gonna work after that.”

“And then they’re gonna use it at their, like, car events,” Veress said, sounding somewhat resigned.

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How did this brief conversation with Dave Binford make the Blanchet 11th grader feel?

“I was just a little disappointed, you know,” Veress admitted. “I had some hope that it would have ended up in in a museum or something, you know. It’s just kind of how the how the cookie crumbles, I guess.”

KIRO Newsradio also spoke with Dave Binford late Thursday evening. He confirmed he is hanging onto the siren and that he doesn’t want it to go to a museum. Binford says he’ll restore it himself and will use it there for the events and car shows they hold at what they call Binford Metals’ “Field of Dreams.”

It’s hard to blame Dave Binford for hanging on to a priceless treasure. He was given a very cool artifact for free – courtesy of Ascendant Demolition – that as recently as a month ago belonged to the people of the City of Seattle. And there appears to be nothing legally compelling him to hand it over to anyone.

If any entity is to blame for this valuable artifact slipping out of public ownership and ending up at a private business, it’s Seattle Parks. They appear to have not done an appropriate level of due diligence by not following through to find a public home for it at MOHAI or some other nonprofit cultural institution. With Veress’ expert guidance and a nonprofit partner, the siren could have been restored and eventually displayed somewhere along with other artifacts to interpret Seattle’s rich Cold War history.

MyNorthwest history: When Washington and Oregon used vinyl records to attract tourists

Earlier this week, KIRO Newsradio spoke with Rachel Schulkin, spokesperson for Seattle Parks & Recreation. When asked if they would be willing to try to help get the siren back from Binford Metals and get it donated somewhere instead, Schulkin said, essentially, the siren and tower were a safety hazard because of structural concerns and lead paint, and now that it has been removed from Northacres Park, it’s no longer any concern of Seattle Parks & Recreation.

Meanwhile, Veress says he hasn’t completely given up. Where would he rate how he feels on a scale of zero to 10, with zero being “hopeless” and 10 being “very optimistic?”

“I’m feeling like a solid four or five, you know,” Veress said. “I think (there are still) options to work with them. At the same time, I understand if they want to, you know, do their thing.”

You can hear Feliks Banel every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien. Read more from Feliks here and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks. You can also follow Feliks on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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Update: Cold War air raid siren remains in private hands