ONE WAY TO make yourself famous is to declare that you are. That’s not a merely modern maxim. From 1948, our “Then” photo looks west toward “North Bend’s Famous McGrath’s Cafe,” along what used to be called U.S. Highway 10 through downtown North Bend, 30 miles east of Seattle. This 20-foot-tall neon sign was so massive that it required a rooftop superstructure to keep it in place.
RELATED: “Now” photographer Jean Sherrard shares his 360-degree video of the area around the old McGrath’s Cafe at the new YouTube channel Seattle Now & Then 360.
Jack McGrath, an entrepreneur from the Southwest, built his eponymous eatery in 1922, expanding it in 1926 to a second-floor hotel designed by Seattle architects Bertram Stuart and Arthur Wheatley, who also designed Seattle’s Bergonian (later Mayflower Park) Hotel and Marlborough apartments that same year and (in 1927) the Exeter House apartments.
McGrath sought to enthrall locals with his social hot spot and captivate the curious who passed through the lumber-based upper Snoqualmie Valley on their way to and from the Cascades.
The canny promoter used ads in the North Bend Post to comfort the parents of area teens: “Proud to say we have 16 feet of soda fountain with lots of hot water for glass washing … If your daughter or son is dancing at McGrath’s in the evening, we want to assure you that they are in as good environment as when at home.” To reach motorists reading The Seattle Times, McGrath touted his town’s proximity (“The Gateway to the Winter Playgrounds”) and the delights east of the mountains (“It’s apple blossom time in Wenatchee. Nature puts on its annual show!”).
The lure of cross-state travel took off, of course, with the early-century advent of the motorcar and the development of an automotive route over Snoqualmie Pass, which had been graded and graveled by 1915; straightened and widened in the 1920s and 1930s; and, by 1942, following the 1940 opening of the Mercer Island floating bridge, paved and opened as a four-lane highway.
What was morphing into Interstate 90 was blazing through and bisecting downtown North Bend. After locals clamored for a safe way to cross it, officials installed a traffic signal on July 1, 1965, just to the right of our “Then” image. It thus became one of only a handful of such vehicle-stoppers along the length of I-90 from Seattle to Boston. Not surprisingly, cars often jammed up at the light (on one busy Memorial Day, traffic stretched 13 miles east of North Bend and endured a two-hour delay) until a bypass opened in 1978 half a mile southwest of this scene.
The thought of such bottlenecks probably doesn’t occur to most of the tens of thousands of motorists and truck drivers zooming along Interstate 90 and skirting North Bend today. But it might have put a smile on the face of Jack McGrath.