By Alicia Arter and Jan Hadley
Where Dick’s Drive-In now stands, the Motor-In Market opened Oct. 17, 1930 at 500 Queen Anne Ave. N. The innovative market was the first of its kind in the neighborhood.
Its eye-catching tower lit up at night to ensure people could find the location. The pioneering L-shaped building had parking for 100 automobiles, with a Shell gasoline filling station onsite. Attendants parked cars for motorists, according to an advertisement in The Seattle Times. While shopping, customers could have their groceries delivered to their cars, and a special numbering system ensured that the right packages were delivered to the correct cars.
Optionally, shoppers could phone in their grocery order to be filled ahead of time, then delivered to their car when they drove into the parking lot. In 1930, the shopping cart had yet to be invented, so most groceries were contained in handheld baskets. Many people stopped shopping when their baskets became heavy, so the Motor-In Market’s car delivery could also mean higher sales for the stores.
It was based on a model from California, as the enthusiasm for automobiles gripped the country, even while the Great Depression began taking its toll. By Jan 18, 1931 Motor-In Market president H.W. Lemcke had already sold control of the company to Harry Cannon.
At its inception an additional 19 similar markets were envisioned for Seattle, but most of the markets were not built. Locally, the Cove Mid-City Market, which is now Builders Hardware at 1516 15th Ave. W., by the Magnolia Bridge, was built in 1931 by a different developer.
The land on which the Motor-In Market was built was described as the site of the home of Seattle pioneer David T. Denny in the 1937 King County tax photos, although there is some dispute about this.
The developer selected stores to be pleasing to the customers as well as compatible with each other. The Motor-In claimed “the highest quality products are sold at the lowest prices possible,” and care was taken to have the latest innovations at the market. The bakery had an electric oven (a sensation at the time) and a Hobart brand mixer. Modern conveniences were highlighted, as well as a “sanitary” shopping experience.
The first occupants advertised were Pay-N-Save Food Stores grocery, G&B Steak Shop, Fisher’s Bakery & Delicatessen, G. O. Guy Drugs, and Shell Gasoline. They offered Producers Dairy brand milk and cream, baked goods made with Electric Light flour and Campbell’s Best flour, and fresh eggs from Washington Cooperative Egg & Poultry Association.
How were the prices? An ad in The Queen Anne News for Thanksgiving 1930 listed eggs for 29 cents per dozen, Del Monte coffee for 33 cents per pound, a beef roast for 17 cents per pound, and pies for 30 cents and 40 cents each. Cookies were two dozen for 25 cents.
Designed by architects Hancock and Lockman, the Motor-In Market was built by local firm A. S. Peterson . It stretched out 200 feet along Queen Anne Avenue North, and 120 feet along Republican Street. The exterior was light-colored, with a Spanish-style tile roof.
Large signs along the outside of the building proclaimed groceries, meats, fish, vegetables, delicatessen, fruit, poultry, and even a fountain lunch spot.
As time went on the building continued to house various grocery stores and shops. In 1940 the grocery had become Eba’s, and Lee Baumann of G&B Steak Shop was still operating a meat store there.
By 1958 only the one side of the L-shaped building appears to have remained, and it housed the Dime-A-Matic self-serve laundromat with parking. Two other food-related businesses, Smith’s Bakery and Freeze Inc., were listed at the address in the Polk’s business directory in that year.
The final year of operation was 1974, with the laundromat operating alongside Wally’s Drive-In and the Snowhite Bakery. That year the building was demolished and replaced with the current Dick’s Drive-In.