Broadway Market must have the most varied history of any grocery center in Seattle. In the last 88 years it has housed QFC, Fred Meyer and its predecessor Marketime, Safeway, independent grocers, and Tradewell and its predecessors. Bitter corporate rivals have swapped spots.
This article focuses on the site’s pre-history and the first era of Broadway Market through 1940. The last 75 years are captured in photographs and quotes.
It was almost Broadway Theatre
Broadway Market sits on the west side of Broadway between Harrison and Republican. This block was developed in the early 1890s as part of the Broadway section of the Pontius Additions, which was unveiled in last month’s time trip. By the 1910s the block was completely filled with homes.
In 1927, movie theater magnates Claude Jensen and John von Herberg were looking for another Capitol Hill location after opening the Venetian at 15th and Pine. After hearing the city’s plans to widen Broadway from 59 to 80 feet entirely on the east side of the street, the partners purchased the west side of Broadway from Harrison to Republican. The widening plan had not yet been codified by an ordinance though, and the city engineering department announced a switch to an even land condemnation on both sides of the street. Von Herberg appeared at council meetings and attempted to fight the change, saying that the full lot size was needed to open a theater. He lost. Jensen and von Herberg turned their attention to retaking control of the Liberty Theatre at 1st and Pike, and abandoned their plans for the Broadway Theatre site.
Broadway Central Market
Instead, a public market was built by a developer, a lawyer, and a saloon owner.
Real estate developer Arthur Gerbel approached Jensen and von Herberg with the idea of leasing the property for a public market building in mid-1927. Pike Place Market was the first and became the last of Seattle’s public markets, but for several decades markets were the standard way to buy the range of items we find at monolithic supermarkets today. Just in the north part of downtown there were also the Security, White, Central, Pine Street (with Annex), Westlake, Olympic, Liberty, Queen City, and Postoffice public markets. Each had a standard list of business types: butcher, florist, grocer, fish monger, dairy, green grocer, and sometimes a cobbler or barber. Broadway would add to the list of markets located in residential districts.
Towards the end of 1927, Gerbel hired architect Charles Haynes to draw up plans for the market. In mid-January 1928 Gerbel formed Broadway Central Market, Inc., with R. M. Kinnear and Henry A. Beck as officers. Kinnear was son of Seattle pioneer John Kinnear and, like his father, he was a lawyer and served in the state senate. Calling him a lawyer is really an oversimplification, since he founded an insurance company as well and was a major real estate holder downtown.
Beck was a former hotel proprietor and saloon owner. This article has more asides than a dodecahedron, but it’s impossible to not talk about Beck. He owned the Lake Union Saloon at current Valley and Boren in the 1890s, the Palace Saloon at 1st and then 2nd and Pike from 1899, and the Abbott Saloon from 1906. A 1906 write-up on the Palace described it as a “phenomenal success, which, first, is due to the high quality of wines and liquors carried, and second to the sterling enterprise, probity and good management of the proprietor, Mr. Henry A. Beck.” The Seattle Times editors clearly supported Beck in his failed run to be a state representative in 1906, but nonetheless Palace was quite successful.
Beck tried to further his enterprise by opening a beer garden in Madison Park in 1904. Unfortunately for him, the Anti-Saloon League took him head on, gathering 18,000 signatures and packing the room at the city council meeting where his license was to be approved. The League forced politicians to backtrack and claim they had never supported the idea of a beer garden. Beck was already busy as a member of the Eagles and Odd Fellows, so perhaps it was bitterness that caused him to become a founding member of the Seattle branch of the Knights of the Royal Arch in 1908. This was a fraternal organization with the entire purpose of a “war on Prohibition.” Next time you’re in QFC’s liquor room, give a mental toast to Beck for his dedication to the cause.
The three signed a 99-year lease with Jensen and von Herberg at the end of February and Haynes began overseeing construction of Broadway Central Market.
Charles Haynes designed so many Seattle buildings in the first few decades of the 1900s that the new edition of Shaping Seattle Architecture gives up and says “many revival style houses, apartment buildings, and commercial projects, including more than one hundred houses in Mount Baker.” Major projects around Capitol Hill included the Roy Vue Apartments, Butterworth Mortuary (now the Pine Box), a building with showroom for Mack Truck at the SE corner of Pike and Broadway (now Frame Central), and Dunlap Apartments (now Emerald Arms), but basically the list is so long that no one has put it together yet. Haynes worked with Gerbel on many projects including the Mack Truck building.
Broadway Central Market’s grand opening was on September 1, 1928. It sounds pretty normal for nowadays, but back then the event was special: a jazzy orchestra, free parking, free ice cream, free balloons for kids, free loaves of bread, buy-one-get-one-free Hinkle pills, and free Kodak film development for example. Tenants included two fruit and vegetable stands, fish market, bakery, delicatessen, meat market, flower shop, a branch of drug store chain G. O. Guy, and a branch of United Groceries.
(To read more about G. O. Guy I humbly suggest inspecting pages 104-105 of my book Lost Seattle. Below is a summary of United Groceries. If you want a ridiculously over-researched and excessively thorough history of United, this time I humbly suggest an article on my site ba-kground.)
By 1928 Seattle had an array of discount chain grocers: Safeway, Piggly Wiggly (hold that thought, more next month), Marr, Eba’s, and Anderson were the biggest. They grew in the space vacated by Seattle’s first chain, Groceteria (again, humbly). Each had a dozen or two dozen stores around the city. United had a few stores from 1927 but in August 1928 they went big by buying out Anderson Stores. Anderson had 19 stores, United had 5 already, and a week later their store in Broadway Central Market became number 25.
After less than a year, the Broadway Central Market company was bankrupt.
(Can we pause? I need to relay that Gerbel, Beck, and Kinnear’s relationship was not ruined with their business. They knew each other as members of Eagles Aerie No. 1, but their friendship went deeper. When Gerbel died in 1941, Beck and Kinnear were pallbearers at his funeral. When Kinnear died in 1943, Beck did the same for him.)
Per the terms of the lease, all improvements to the property — including the building itself — were, upon construction, the possession of the property owners. None of Broadway Central Market’s debtors had anyone to pursue a claim against, and the theater owners suddenly had an unencumbered public market to manage. Jensen and von Herberg did so successfully until von Herberts death in the late 1940s. This isn’t completely surprising, because they were somewhat eclectic businessmen and constant partners in their career. For example, in 1939 they purchased Rippe’s Cafe and turned it into Von’s Cafe.
Yes, John von Herberg named his cafe after himself, and it is now this:
— Von's 1000Spirits (@VonsSeattle) March 2, 2015
In 1929, Jenson and von Herberg immediately rebranded our subject building to the much simpler name Broadway Market. In 1935, they added some of their theater flair with a massive sign out front, including a thermometer on top and what was claimed to be the largest clock in the city.
In the interim, United Groceries had become Mutual Markets in 1931 after merging with another firm, and after merging again with Eba’s Markets in 1932, the expanded chain became Eba’s Mutual Markets. That is the name on signboards in the 1937 assessor’s photos available through the State Archives.
End of the First Grocery Era
Broadway Market’s first grocery era ended in 1940.
The year before, Eba’s Mutual Markets was broke. Their main creditor, distributor Pacific Foods and its parent Pacific Gamble Robinson, took possession of the chain to reclaim debt. PGR brought in convalescing former Safeway executive Monte L. Bean to see if he could create value out of Eba’s and a handful of other stores in their possession. Bean rebranded them all Tradewell, ruthlessly cut fat, and quickly had a profitable enterprise. Bean entered a two-decade battle with Safeway for the top of the Pacific Northwest grocery business. Eventually Bean threw in the towel after PGR began restricting his autonomous control of Tradewell. He retired at the end of the 1950s.
(Back in November, the Re:Take series relaunched with an article about City Market, which was formerly an Eba’s and then Eba’s Mutual Market and then Tradewell.)
In Bean’s biography These Mortal Years he described many of the ways he turned Tradewell around in 1939, including saving money on rent by a drastic change in the main warehouse siting, and moving retail stores within neighborhoods to reduce leases. In his book he went over many opportunities to change business practices:
“As it developed, [the bank’s] greatest difficulty with Earl Eba and his $135,000 debt was that Earl loved to drink and play cards. In short, he was a man who would rather indulge himself than get down to business and pay his debts. And Josh Green was making very sure that I did not come out of the same mold.” (These Mortal Years, 248)
“I went through the Eba organization like a whirlwind. Evidence of mismanagement, neglect, dirt and foolish business practices was everywhere. If we were to survive as a corporation, the waste of money, time and manpower had to be stopped immediately.” (249)
The Broadway Market store was apparently one place he saved money. Tradewell exited quickly, in 1940, and moved across the street on Broadway.
v2.0 to v6.0
The second era for Broadway Market’s groceries lasted from 1941 to 1957, when it housed two competing stores. Broadway Super Foods, part of the Reliance Grocery association, opened in 1941. Broadway Market Price-Rite opened by 1946. During this period the building continued to have a dozen or more storefronts.
Safeway’s occupancy in 1958 kicked off the third era. Broadway Market’s owner Broadacres, Inc — which purchased the property indirectly from von Herberg’s estate and Jensen — purchased all of the remaining lots on the block in 1958. After remodeling, Safeway leased 10,500 square feet in the southern half of the building that year. Seattle drug store chain Marketime opened their fourth store in 1959 on the north end, with design work on an expansion to the rear of the building by B. Marcus Priteca. A few months later Marketime was acquired by Fred Meyer. Eventually, Marketime converted to Fred Meyer. There were still a few small storefronts, but Broadway Market was almost entirely occupied by the two primary tenants.
Safeway left in 1973 to a terrible building at Broadway and Mercer that the community had tried to fight for four years because of its obvious, impending terribleness. If you remember Broadway before the Brix Condominiums building was built in 2006, you must have no love lost for Safeway’s concrete block walls facing Broadway and 10th, or its long, half-block storefront facing the parking lot and Mercer Street.
After Safeway left, Fred Meyer expanded to take the entire Broadway Market building. Aesthetically it was the low-point of the market, with white stucco applied to the Broadway exterior. However, this quote from a 1984 Seattle Times article captures how important the market remained to Broadway:
“Broadway is truly one of the fine strolling streets in Seattle and has been so for years. Alive, diverse, democratic, it has many things to see and do — from design stores and elegant boutiques to serious bookstores to restaurants galore. But the fulcrum of Broadway is the down-home, almost venerable Marketime Drug (now known as Fred Meyer), a business which provides the necessary economic leavening and no-nonsense stability for the street…
“So while Seattle’s Broadway may never be immortalized in verse or song, it certainly can serve as a textbook example of intelligent urban design.”
Fred Meyer’s sole occupancy from 1973-1986 was the fourth era.
The fifth and perhaps most fondly remembered period for Broadway Market began in 1986. The building was expanded and remodeled as a public market again with many small shops, and offices and apartments were built over the top. Here’s how the redesign was described in a 1986 editorial in the Seattle Times titled Cruisin’ Broadway for a Meal, a High, a Date, a Friend, a Thrill, a Handout, a Bruisin’ – Everything Except a Parking Place:
“Designed to emulate the old Broadway Market, still remembered fondly by the regulars, a farmer’s market a la Pike Place East. Gone will be [Fred Meyer]’s ugly stucco panels, replaced with airy solarium glass. A long arcade punctuated with fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood, meat counters, flower carts, music stands what have you a great human shopping cavalcade done in style and taste with huge skylights overhead to simulate open-air atmosphere. A four-plex 700-seat movie theater that hopefully will not run the Harvard Exit or (gasp) Broadway Theater out of business. An underground 230-slot parking garage that hopefully will be big enough to accommodate the additional traffic. A new upper level containing offices and, in one corner, apartments. And yes, Fred Meyer will stay!”
A 1987 article in the Seattle Times framed the change in experience after work was complete:
“There was a big white wall and a Fred Meyer there and nobody knew the building had scale and character and interesting detail. From the street the storefronts remind me of Columbus Avenue in New York,” said Broadway Market developer Val Thomas, who was the development manager for the Pike Place Market renovation during the mid-70s.
By email, Ray Johnston of Johnston Architects reinforced the poor shape of the building when it was Fred Meyer, and the drastic change when it was renovated:
“It was in bad shape when we started. There had been… stucco over the whole façade that you see today. So, we took that off and restored the terra cotta and storefront systems. The result really brought Broadway back to life, which was pretty cool……”
Fred Meyer left in 2004, the building was reconfigured removing many of the individual storefronts as QFC moved in from across the street, and the old QFC was leveled to build Joule Apartments. We are now in the sixth era of Broadway Market.
One Final Aside
Henry Beck’s partner in the Palace Saloon was John Brill. In 1947 the Seattle Times interviewed him for a nostalgia piece, with a brief mention of our neighborhood:
“Seattle has changed a lot since I first saw it [in 1882],” Brill said. “There were only about 3,500 people here then. I’ve hunted bear on Capitol Hill — although I never got one — and I’ve hunted ducks and geese all around Lake Union.”
There’s a witty T-shirt slogan in there somewhere.