Seattle Now & Then: The Rhodes 10 cent Store

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Harlan Thomas, architect for the Rhodes Building, is remembered with his surviving local landmarks including the Sorrento Hotel, with its own grand entrance, the Chelsea Hotel, the Corner Market Building, Harborview Hospital and the Chamber of Commerce building. Thomas we also head of the U.W.’s Department of Architecture from 1926 to 1940. (Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: Now the high-rise Century Square fills the northwest corner of Pike St. and Fourth Avenue.

Surely among those who take time to shape their opinions on architecture this façade of the Rhodes Store will excite some and alienate others.  For the latter, the building’s five-floor front may be too congested with ornaments.  I like them and have felt an enduring affection –- for a 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, mid-western farmers who moved to Puget Sound around 1890 to quickly become sibling-entrepreneurs in both Tacoma and Seattle. By 1900 they were flaunted as Seattle’s “leading tea and coffee house,” a success which should feature the Rhodes family in any history of Seattle’s preferred tastes.

The brothers’ first little Seattle storefront at 1325 Second Avenue, 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 will certainly still be remembered by many locals. The big department store was built in the late 1920s with an enlargement of the Arcade Buildings’ north half, the part facing Union Street, between First and Second Avenue

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’s10 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 10 Cent Store, pictured here, opened on the fifteenth of December, 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 one million dollar twenty year lease to turn this ornate show box 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 the spring of 1932.  The official housewarming party started at noon with KOL radio’s Kiddies’ Hour and the then “well-known Negro entertainers, the Deacon Jones Quartet.”


Anything to add, guys?

THEN: The ‘Seattle showplace’ Rhodes mansion on Capitol Hill, ca. 1916. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)

THEN:The early evening dazzle of the Roosevelt Theatre at 515 Pike Street, probably in 1941. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

Great railroad signs, theatre signs and ranks of neon were still the greatest contributors to night light at 4th and Westlake in 1949. (Photo by Robert Bradley compliment of Lawton and Jean Gowey)


THEN:  Seattle Architect Paul Henderson Ryan designed the Liberty Theatre around the first of many subsequent Wurlitzer organs used for accompanying silent films in theatres “across the land”.  The Spanish-clad actor-dancers posed on the stage apron are most likely involved in a promotion for a film – perhaps Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925) or Douglas Fairbanks’ The Gaucho (1929) that also played at the Liberty.  (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

THEN: With her or his back to the Medical-Dental Building an unidentified photographer took this look northeast through the intersection of 6th and Olive Way about five years after the Olive Way Garage first opened in 1925.  (Courtesy, Mark Ambler)


THEN: While visiting Seattle for some promoting, silent film star Wallace Reid shares the sidewalk at 4th and Olive with a borrowed Stutz Bearcat.  (Courtesy, Museum of History & Industry)

THEN: The “then” photo looks southeast across Union Street to the old territorial university campus.  It was recorded in the Fall of 1907, briefly before the old park-like campus was transformed into a grand commercial property, whose rents still support the running of the University of Washington.  (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)

THEN: Thanks again and again to Lawton Gowey for another contribution to this feature, this ca. 1917 look into a fresh Denny Regrade and nearly new “office-factory” at 1921 Fifth Avenue.  (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey.)

THEN: This rare early record of the Fourth and Pike intersection was first found by Robert McDonald, both a state senator and history buff with a special interest in historical photography. He then donated this photograph - with the rest of his collection - to the Museum of History and Industry, whom we thank for its use.  (Courtesy MOHAI)

THEN: Looking west on Pike Street from Fourth Avenue, the variety in the first block of this retail district includes the Rhodes Bros. Ten Cent Store, Mendenhall’s Kodaks, Fountain Pens and Photo Supplies, Remick’s Song and Gift Shop, the Lotus Confectionary, Fahey-Brockman’s Clothiers, where, one may “buy upstairs and save $10.00”.  (Courtesy, MOHAI)

THEN: This Webster and Stevens studio photo dates from either late 1917 or early 1918. The grand Frederick and Nelson Department store, rising above Fifth Avenue, has not yet reached its sumptuous Sept. 3. 1918 opening. In the foreground, the much smaller but also elegant flatiron building, bordered by Pine Street, in the foreground, and Westlake and Fifth Avenues to the sides, was razed and replaced also in 1918 by a three story retail block on the same flatiron footprint. (Courtesy, the Museum of History & Industry)

THEN: Looking east on Pike Street from Fifth Avenue early in the twentieth century. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)




2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Rhodes 10 cent Store”

  1. I have a photo of my great grandfather sitting on oneof the landings with a group of men ( masons ) who helped build it, I believe looking South, was wondering if you would like to see it for then and now

    1. Hi Richard. Many years ago when my mother in law passed away in Northern California, one of the keep sakes we saved was a small soft metal placque, hand pounded of a Panoramic view of Seattle Washington.
      It is 7.5 x 3.25 and on the back it is engraved/stamped “MANUFACTURED EXPRESSLY FOR RHODES BROS. 10 CENT STORE” SEATTLE WASH. The cent is the actual symbol, not letters but I don’t have that symbol on my keyboard. Looks very old. Do you know if any family members want it, or can you direct me to one. If you can, please let me know. Thank you.

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