Josephine and Edward Nordhoff's original vision of developing a big department store like the Bon Marché in Paris got its modest start in Belltown in 1890.

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Josephine and Edward Nordhoff’s original vision of developing a big department store like the Bon Marché in Paris got its modest start in Belltown in 1890. It prospered, although neither of them survived to look into this pit between Pine and Stewart streets and Third and Fourth avenues, where a new Bon Marché was just one grand part of a boom in downtown construction.

When the work began, the department store was still owned by the Nordhoff family, but a few weeks before the Aug. 6, 1929, dedication day, the family sold out to Hahn Stores of Chicago. It was fortunate for the family, because just weeks after the Bon’s dedication came “Black Tuesday,” Oct. 29, 1929, the day usually marked as the start of the Great Depression.

After the crash, hopes for a quick recovery leaned on the robust building boom that was still under way. The Seattle Times for Dec. 29, 1929, reported, “Seattle today was looking forward to an unbroken stretch of building construction and of advancement in public improvements that promises to reach even greater heights than were attained by the steady, inspiring progress of 1929.” In Seattle, architect John Graham Sr. was most identified with big constructions, and in 1929 his firm was working on three at the same time: the Bon Marché, the Exchange Building and the Roosevelt Hotel, all in the Deco style.

And how big was the big store? Getting as much press as the new Bon’s dedication — and, for that matter, nearly as much as the dedication of Boeing Field, also in 1929 — was pilot Bob Wark’s improvisational use of a block-long “runway” on the roof of the new Bon for an emergency landing soon after the department store opened.

“Washington Then and Now,” by Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard, can be purchased through www.washingtonthenandnow.com ($45) or through Tartu Publications at P.O. Box 85208, Seattle, WA 98145.