Among the many oddities one can find while traversing our city’s streets, the red telephone box on East Blaine Street in Madison Park might invoke the most WTFs. Unlike the gargantuan hat and boots in Georgetown or the Volkswagen Beetle–gripping troll in Fremont, the booth doesn’t announce itself as novelty. There’s no explanation for its presence, no fanfare. Just a vestige of British culture seemingly air-dropped onto a quiet Seattle sidewalk. No big deal.
It can be an afterthought even in this tiny neighborhood, says its owner and longtime Madison Park resident, Tom Maloney. “I never even really think about it except as a reference point.” If you’re trying to describe where something is in Madison Park, “it’s usually like, Well, do you know where the red phone booth is?”
The rectangular, windowed box claims a centrally located patch of sidewalk. Along a street that connects the neighborhood’s main drag to its popular beach, passersby waddle with paddleboards toward Lake Washington or fish through purses for Audi fobs after trips to Bert’s Red Apple Market. The nearby grocer is one of many family-owned businesses lining East Madison Street, injecting some small-town vibes into an otherwise urbane stretch of the city.
A couple of Brits fell for this slice of Seattle. When Cornelia Carre and her husband, Serge, left the travel business more than three decades ago, they decided to settle in a community where her grandparents had long happily resided. They rented a squat building near the corner of East Blaine and 42nd Avenue from Jan Maloney, Tom’s late mother, and opened a fine art gallery there, applying some touches of their home country: They gave it a very British-sounding name (St. James’s Court) and, on the sidewalk out front, installed a K6 telephone box.
By the new millennium England had started removing the famous booths that date back to the 1920s. The spread of mobile phones would make them even more obsolete in the twenty-first century. Still, the private conversation portal has persisted as a national symbol today, everywhere from Instagram selfies to the set of Ted Lasso.
In the early 1990s, when the Carres’ box made its way down from Vancouver via shipping container, Anglophilia was no less rampant. Upon the booth’s arrival, models posed for photos with it. Film crews stopped by. “The locals were absolutely thrilled to bits,” says Cornelia.
By the end of that decade, the Carres would return to London for family reasons, but they let Jan Maloney have the booth. The gallery space has turned over multiple times since their departure (today it’s a design business). But Tom Maloney still owns the building, which means the box will stay where it is. A neighbor inquired about buying it a handful of years ago after a transformative trip abroad. No chance.
This holiday season, just as every year, Maloney will place a paper mâché Santa given to the Carres by a Frederick and Nelson department store designer in the booth. Before then, Maloney’s working on giving it a new paint job and sprucing up the interior. Someone got in and messed around. The antique phone inside is gone. “I should probably look and see if it shows up on eBay,” he says.
Maloney, now a real estate agent with Compass, has always lived in Madison Park. The well-heeled community remains something of a self-contained orb, affording a privacy not unlike the four walls of a K6. “If you work your life right,” Maloney says, “you can stay in Madison Park for 80 percent of the time.”