Taxidermy has become a staple wall ornament of dimly lit Capitol Hill taverns. Whether bar owners know it or not, stuffing and mounting animal carcasses actually has a rich history in the neighborhood.
Seattle’s Klineburger brothers operated one of the largest custom taxidermists in the country from their Capitol Hill shop inside 12th Ave’s Ballou Wright building, today home to Juicebox and the Creature agency.
The brothers Jonas were Hungarian immigrants that opened taxidermist shops in New York, Colorado, and in Capitol Hill. The New York shop is still open to this day. Gene, Bert, and Chris Klineburger bought the business from the Jonas family in 1954.
According to a Sammamish Review article, the Klineburgers grew the business significantly and changed the name to Klineburger Brothers taxidermists in the 1970s. They ran the business until 1981 when they moved off Capitol Hill. Prior to housing the taxidermist business, the Ballou Wright building was part of Capitol Hill’s auto-row economy, serving primarily as a parts distributor.
Hunter’s owner Michael Malone told CHS that the Klineburgers owned multiple buildings in Pike/Pine over the years, including the Northwest Film Forum building to the south and the SPD East Precinct building to the north.
In 1964, a Sports Illustrated reporter visited the Capitol Hill shop, which had outposts in Uganda and Alaska, and noted “two or three thousand wild animal pelts are strung up on long lines.” The shop also mounted sea life, including a 20,000 pound orca whale. In addition to the fiberglass taxidermy the brothers perfected, the reporter noted Jonas Brothers could “custom-make or sell mink coats, leopard (car coats, $3,450), Washington state muskrat (car coat, $295) and zebra (24-inch jacket with natural beaver shawl collar and elbow cuffs, $875). They will sell you enough zebra to cover your bar, whether it takes one skin ($75-$100) or a hundred.”
As avid hunters themselves, the Klineburger brothers became a trusted source for information and trip planning for hunting big game in Africa and Asia. In 1960 the brothers opened the High Lonesome Ranch in Sammamish.
While you’ll probably have to look off the Hill for any late taxidermy gifts this holiday season, Sports Illustrated offered this recommendation for hunters in a 1971 issue:
Would you ecology fans believe an elephant-skin briefcase? Also an elephant hair charm bracelet for the little woman, hung with golden heads of elephant, Cape buffalo, sable antelope, lion and greater koodoo. The briefcase goes for $96.50. Charming the little lady will cost you $235, plus a postage stamp to Klineburger, Jonas Brothers.
The Klineburgers moved off their Sammamish Ranch in 2000 and sold the “Frontier Town” property, which was quickly demolished to make room for growing developments in the area. When asked to reflect on the winter years of the family’s eclectic journey, Chris Klineburger offered the Sammamish Review this fine bit of poetry:
“The essence of life is discovering what is on the other side of the mountain … [but] upon reaching the destination, we realize that there is no end. Distant mountains lie before us; it is time to meditate and give thanks.”