The Rhodes brothers moved here from the Midwest around 1890. Their Ten Cent Store in downtown Seattle was ironically sumptuous — and short-lived. Among those who take time to shape their opinions on architecture, the store’s facade will excite some and alienate others.

Share story

SURELY, AMONG THOSE who take time to shape their opinions on architecture, this facade of the Rhodes Store will excite some and alienate others.

For the latter, the building’s five-floor front might be too congested with ornaments. I like them and have felt an enduring affection — for as long as I’ve had a copy of the photograph — for the playful front of this 10-cent store.

From 1924 to 1931, it faced east from the west side of Fourth Avenue, where it sat two lots north of Pike Street.

The store was named for four Rhodes brothers: Albert, Henry, William and Charles, Midwestern farmers who moved to the Puget Sound area around 1890 to quickly become sibling-entrepreneurs in Tacoma and Seattle. By 1900, they were flaunted as Seattle’s “leading tea and coffee house,” a success that should feature the Rhodes family in any history of Seattle’s preferred tastes.

The brothers’ first little Seattle storefront, at 1325 Second Ave., took a small part of the block-big Arcade Building. William was the manager of its bargain department, although he was quick to explain, “We brothers have always worked together, pulled together financially and in business managements. Of course, we all look upon (up to) the big store Seattle knows as ‘Albert’s Store.’ ”

The oldest brother, Albert, and his wife, Harriet, managed the “big store,” which, with its organ in the lobby, certainly still will be remembered by many locals. The big department store was built in the late 1920s with an enlargement of the Arcade Building’s north half, the part facing Union Street, between First and Second avenues.

Earlier, while dreaming of dimes and preparing to open the family’s economy bazaar, William promised, “We will even sell a good brand of tea and coffee for ten cents a pound on our opening day.”

The door on Second Avenue first opened to the store’s 10-cent assortment of dry goods, notions, furnishings, confectionary, china, glasses, kitchen needs and thousands of knickknacks on the morning of June 6, 1903.

Twenty-one years later, the second Rhodes Brothers Ten Cent Store, pictured here, opened on Dec. 15, 1924. The Times liked it, reporting, “The building presents some new ideas in the design of Seattle retail establishments … The exterior of the building is of Italian Renaissance Style, and is faced in glazed terra cotta. One of the most striking features is the 24-foot arch recessed above the Fourth Avenue entrance, for scenic displays.”

The fair-weather mural framed here is one of only two photographs I’ve found of this ironically sumptuous 10-cent store. The other appears in this newspaper and shows the arch fitted not with a beach scene but a Christmas tree.

The Rhodes brothers’ second 10-cent store was short-lived, perhaps from a combination of changing retail tastes, the sudden slam of the Great Depression in 1929 and an offer the brothers could not refuse: In the late fall of 1931, the Seattle Gas Company signed a $1 million, 20-year lease to turn this ornate showbox into the Gasco Building.

The ensuing remodel stripped the Rhodes building of its ornamental pleasures (for some) to become the gas company’s center for billing and exhibiting modern appliances. It first opened to the public in spring 1932.