Thursday, September 23, 2021
Sept. 23, 2021

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It’s lights out at Vancouver’s iconic Igloo

As neon sign comes down, patrons recall personal service, friendly vibe at the beloved Vancouver burger and ice cream restaurant

By , Columbian Arts & Features Reporter
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The sign for the former Igloo Restaurant is seen on the ground June 10. The Igloo, a vintage neighborhood diner, closed in 2018 but remained a landmark.
The sign for the former Igloo Restaurant is seen on the ground June 10. The Igloo, a vintage neighborhood diner, closed in 2018 but remained a landmark. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The iconic neon sign that used to draw folks from far and wide to Vancouver’s neighborly Igloo Restaurant has been taken down and carted away. The new, replacement sign announces that the funny little former diner on the corner of East Evergreen Boulevard and Grove Street is now the home of Precision Air, a heating and air conditioning contractor.

Neighbor Lorraine Martin, 88, has spent nearly all her life living across the street or a few short blocks from the Igloo. Martin called The Columbian earlier this month to alert us that the sign had come down, marking the final end of a friendly era.

“Everybody knew the Igloo,” Martin said. “It was the neighborhood place. They supported us and we supported them.”

The Igloo Restaurant opened in 1948, had a long and complicated history of owners coming and going, and closed its doors for the last time in 2018. Martin said she remembers the original version of that neon sign, which contained the abbreviated names of the restaurant’s first owners. “Ranlou Igloo,” it said, standing for Randall and Louise Potter.

The Potters eventually built and moved into a small apartment over the restaurant where they made the world’s best burgers and milkshakes, bar none, Martin declared.

“My uncle and aunt would come all the way from General Anderson Avenue, just for a milkshake,” she said. “They also made floats, but they didn’t know what a chocolate Coke float was until I ordered one. They made it for me and after that they knew it’s what I always liked.”

That kind of personal treatment couldn’t help winning over Martin’s heart and loyalty for life.

“When I had minor surgery in the 1950s, I needed an ice pack and my dad went to see if he could buy a bag of ice from the Igloo,” she said. “They found out and they kept sending home bags of ice, free of charge.

“When my son, Jeff, had a stomach flu and couldn’t keep anything down, the doctor said get some Coca Cola syrup to settle his stomach,” she remembered. “So I asked if they had any Coca Cola syrup I could buy, and they just squirted some in a cup and said, ‘No charge.’”

That was back in the day when Coke didn’t come premixed, she added: a “soda jerk” had to blend syrup and seltzer while you waited and chatted.

While Martin can’t remember the mailman’s name, she remembers the signature burger created in his honor by the Igloo staff, back in their earliest days.

“It had the works: a fried egg and bacon on it,” she said. “He ordered it every day, and everybody knew that was his burger.”

The Igloo Restaurant was like that — the kind of place where everybody knew your burger.

Boom Bam Smackle!

Those in the “Growing up in Vancouver” Facebook group reminisced about the Igloo’s glory days.

“The nicest owners living on top,” Lennette Watson recently posted. “Attending Harney School was a killer right next to the Igloo. Believe me we did every job we could to earn a nickel or dime to buy their flavored ice cream cones. New flavor every day!”

“I loved the original owners, Randy and Lou,” Marie Michael posted. “We became great friends and Lou took me out for my 21st birthday. They also loved and fed my daughter quite a lot.”

Others who posted on the “Growing up in Vancouver” site are still celebrating the world’s best cherry suckers, black licorice ice cream, strawberry shakes and chocolate malts.

“Used to be home of the 1 lb. Boom Bam Smackle Burger,” added Jeff Lovejoy, “and you got your picture on the wall if you finished it all.”

While the place was beloved and quaint, the Igloo wound down in recent years, outcompeted by the proliferation of fast-food, drive-thru restaurants on larger roads and highways. It even attracted its fair share of trouble and tragedy, including an upstairs fire and a car that missed the turn where the building stands, hitting the restaurant patio and killing the three men in the vehicle.

“It just kind of fizzled out, I guess,” Martin said. “It’s disappointing, but I understand. There are so many inexpensive, fast-food places that can buy (supplies) in bulk now.”

But that’s not the same as a friendly gathering place with a neon sign that shines like a beacon for the whole neighborhood, she said.

“It stood out for blocks,” Martin said, “and when you saw it you knew you were coming home.”

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