Changing times, changing looks: The Wooden Stores at Sixth W. and W. Howe

1834 6th W. in 2017; southern window hidden.

The impact of Seattle’s streetcar lines on Queen Anne’s commercial development continues to be part of our daily lives. Even today, following the historic #24 streetcar route, the one that ran up the Counterbalance around a couple of corners and down Sixth to its terminus at W. McGraw, finds us still shopping in historic buildings all along the way. The active stores like Macrina Bakery, Top Pot Doughnuts or Molly Moon delight us still, but the abandoned ones, like the three at 1828, 1834 and 1900 6th Ave. W. at of W. Howe, draw my eye every day.

All three stores are on the east side of the wider street and were obviously built in response to the 1902 completion of the streetcar line. According to the city’s historic side sewer cards, the shop at 1828 connected to the sewer in 1909 while the one at 1834 on the southeastern corner of W. Howe tied up in 1910. The oldest of the three at 1900 6th Ave., connected in 1904 barely two years after the streetcar arrived. Oddly, we don’t learn the name of the shop owner until 1907. Unlike the great majority of the brick clad stores that survive today, these three are two-story wooden structures with at least one apartment over the shops. Fortunately, we have photographs of all three in 1937 and the early 1950s. The 1937 photos were snapped by an under-employed designer working for the Depression era Works Progress Administration.

Wooden store on 6th W.
1934 6th W. in 1937. Weddle’s Grocery is an IGA where a guy is buying a Coke.

Its asbestos sheathing notwithstanding, 1834 6th W. is architecturally the best preserved of the three and the most interesting. Like many small town wooden stores, this simple wood frame building exploits its site with a false front that when seen from a passing streetcar makes it look about one story higher than it really is. The false front hides a simple gable running east-to-west and creates an imposing façade. Two large plate glass windows of unequal size flanking the entrance are capped by transoms of delicate strip windows which span the façade’s entire width including the setback in front of the doors. The recessed and poorly maintained double doors between the uneven halves of the 6th Ave. façade still delight passersby on foot, in cars, on the #2 and #29 busses or, like me, swooshing by on bicycles. Upstairs, a pair of one over one windows with decorative spandrels and remarkable round-arch panels (both features probably added when the asbestos siding went up) mark the flat where shop owners lived. Today, a couple of trees planted in the parking strip (by the city we hope) obscure the historic façade.

1900 6th W. in 1937. Note the house out back on W. Howe.

The store at 1900 6th W. on the northeast corner of the intersection, the one sheathed in glorious white vinyl, also had a false front. As the 1937 photo shows, the gutters and the edge of the roof wrapping around the building’s western-facing side broadcast the façade’s insincerity. It too had an apartment upstairs for the first shopkeepers, but by 1918, shopkeepers lived in the little house in back on the alley. Today, offensive vinyl siding conceals red composition asphalt siding embossed with imitation bricks that hid the original clapboard in the 1940s. Like the store at 1834, this one had asymmetrical plate glass windows on either side of a recessed door all tied together by a narrow transom of small windows.

1828 6th W. in 1937 as Middleton’s Meat Market with one door to the store and another leading upstairs.

 

All that remains of the store at 1828 Sixth West is the historic door on the southern edge of the façade that leads upstairs.  Around 1950, two additional front doors and a curious arrangement of windows replaced the huge plate glass windows flanking a recessed entrance. These changes marked the conversion of shop space into two apartments. Now, based on the single door to the downstairs, they have apparently become a single flat. The recessed door in the 1937 photograph matches those of the stores at 1834 and 1900. Just like its mercantile neighbors to the north, this shop shares a rectangular façade, but this one is for real. A flat roof makes it possible to build out to the upper corners of the second floor while eliminating the attic and the high false front a gable roof requires. The sign on the awning in the 1937 image announces Middleton Market, whose owner Thomas ran a meat shop. As late as 1952, there are empty lots on either side of this structure.

1828 6th W. in 1952 with three doors.

A couple of extremely quiet hours downtown perusing a few of Polk’s City of Seattle Directories at Rem Koolhaus’ Seattle Public Library proved most of our suppositions about the buildings’ early history.

Even though the now odd-looking box at 1900 6th Ave. W. may have been owned by the trustees of the Third Presbyterian Church (now the Queen Anne Presbyterian Church and located a block away on 5th Ave. W.) in 1904 when it was connected to the sewer, it served from the get-go as a grocery store. Samuel Irvine is first identified in the city directory as operating a grocery there in 1907. He may have been the person of the same name who sold tea in 1905 and 1906 at 519 E. Denny Way, but by 1907, there is no doubt that he was here and living upstairs over the shop with his wife Margaret. They were still there in 1912. With some more digging, we may find out how long they stayed. In any case by 1937, Thomas J. Hanrahan ran the grocery and lived with his wife Nora T. Hanrahan either upstairs in the apartment or out back in the tiny house at 516 W. Howe. By 1941, when the electric trolley busses replaced the streetcars, it had closed. By 1955, however, with the false front removed and the clapboard hidden behind the composition siding, Don Moyle was running Don’s Market here.

1900 6th W. in 1955 when Don owned it.

We know a bit more about the store at 1834 6th Ave. W. The 1910 city directory names Homer T. Verd operating Verd Bros grocery there. Homer apparently went into business with his brother Edward who also sported a middle T, but Edward continue working as the treasurer of Bryant Lumber and Mill Company and the Jackson Investment Company. He did not live on site. According to the 1906 directory Homer and Edward appear to have started in the grocery business down the street at 602 W. Crockett where Homer also lived and where Targy’s Tavern can be found today. In 1910, Verd Bros. moved one block south and across 6th Ave. to 1834 where Homer lived upstairs with his wife Mary. Homer and Mary are still there in the 1912 directory apparently operating their successful grocery just across from the Irvines all that time.

In the 1937 picture, the big sign on the false front announces the grocery store’s IGA identity. The initials stand for Independent Grocers Alliance which started in May 1926 when a group of 100 independent retailers (family-owned local grocery stores) in Poughkeepsie, New York and Sharon, Connecticut, led by J. Frank Grimes, organized themselves into a single marketing system. Guidance from the IGA management came in the form of marketing and access to a consistent supply chain. (Wikipedia). In 1937, Thomas W. Weddle and his wife Pearl ran the IGA and lived upstairs. You can see the Weddell name at the very top of the IGA sign. The Weddle’s store also closed its doors by 1941. (See Alicia Arter and Jan Hadley’s marvelous articles about local grocery stores – especially this one http://qahistory.org/grocery-stores-1/ which explains why these stores failed during the Great Depression). The shop re-opened a few years later as a delicatessen and bakery, but by 1955, it had closed once again.

Exploring 1834 6th W. today, we discover that the retail space is (comparatively) unchanged. Sure, it appears at first look like a rough-hewn nearly abandoned carpentry shop, but truth to tell you could easily slip the old IGA in without changing much. Big old beams still frame the first floor while high ceilings make room for any equipment you might need. Large openings make deliveries easy while the trees notwithstanding, those big windows admit gobs of light. The apartment upstairs is still rented, but the building’s owner now lives next door in a discrete bungalow designed in 2000 by Gregory S. Hackworth of Hackworth Architecture – Planning to hide its modern origins. Hackworth may have set the new house way back from the street in honor of the long gone #24 streetcar that used to rumble by.

Sources:

  1. City of Seattle side sewer cards: http://web6.seattle.gov/dpd/sidesewercardsv2/
  2. Polk’s Directory for the City of Seattle, 1907 through 1912, 1937, 1941.
  3. Photos: King County com folio B13 E6 # C01649 box 65 for 239710-1411.
  4. Photos: King County com folio B13 E6 # C01651 box 65 for 423290-0190.
  5. Wikipedia article on the IGA consulted March 25, 2018.
  6. “Remembering Queen Anne’s Neighborhood Grocery Stores”, http://qahistory.org/grocery-stores-1/  .