Seattle Now & Then: North Bend’s ‘Famous’ McGrath’s Cafe, 1948

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: In the shadow of likely fire-damaged Rattlesnake Ridge stands the McGrath Café in 1948, in a postcard image likely taken by roving Canadian photographer Tom Johnston. Forty-one years later, Twede’s Café, at the far right (west) end of this block, became one of several local filming sites for the cult TV show “Twin Peaks.” (Paul Dorpat collection)
NOW: Sans neon sign but retaining its Spanish Eclectic design, the McGrath building underwent several ownership changes in recent years, including a notable stint as Boxley’s jazz club. It operates today as the Iron Duck Public House. The Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum has extensive files on the McGrath building and 16 others that make up the North Bend Historic Commercial District, registered by King County in 2000. (Clay Eals)

(Published in Seattle Times online on April 25, 2019,
and in print on April 28, 2019)

‘North Bend’s Famous McGrath’s Cafe’ stopped traffic — or maybe that was the stoplight
By Clay Eals

One way to make yourself famous is to declare yourself to be. That’s not merely a modern maxim. A case in point is this 1948 view looking west toward “North Bend’s Famous McGrath’s Café” along what used to be 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.

Jack McGrath, an entrepreneur from the Southwest, built his eponymous eatery in 1922, expanding it in 1926 to a second floor with a 45-room hotel that was conceived by the same architects, Bertram Stuart and Arthur Wheatley, who designed the Bergonian (later Mayflower Park) Hotel and Marlborough and Exeter House apartments in Seattle.

McGrath sought both to enthrall locals and captivate the curious who passed through the upper Snoqualmie Valley lumber berg on their way to and from the Cascades.

The canny promoter used ads in the North Bend Post to reassure parents: “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 more regional Seattle Times, McGrath touted delights east of the mountains (“It’s apple blossom time in Wenatchee … Nature puts on its annual show!”) as well as his town (“The Gateway to the Winter Playgrounds”).

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.

At the behest of locals insisting on a safe way to cross what became Interstate 90 to get from one side of the town to the other, a traffic signal was installed on July 1, 1965, just to the right of our “then” image, one of only a handful of such vehicle-stoppers along the length of I-90 from Seattle to Boston. Cars regularly jammed up at the light (on one Memorial Day, they stretched 13 miles east of North Bend and endured a two-hour delay) until a bypass opened in 1978 one-half mile southwest of this scene.

The thought of such bottlenecks likely doesn’t occur to most of the tens of thousands of motorists and truck drivers zipping along Interstate 90 and bypassing North Bend today. But it might have put a smile on the face of Jack McGrath.


Anything to add, boys?

Sure. Below are some of the source materials for this  column. It’s fun to see what newspaper ads looked like so long ago. –Clay

Ad from June 29, 1923, North Bend Post
Ad from Sept. 7, 1923, North Bend Post


Ad from Dec. 8, 1935, Seattle Times
Ad from April 17, 1941, Seattle Times





Ad from Dec. 22, 1943, Seattle Times



The illustrations we looked for are among the thousands that as yet have not made it over from the old Mac to the NEW.   Instead, and with some confessed regrets, we will have to restrain our extras to a few clips that did make it over, ones that brush the sides of the east side on the old Yellowstone Highway that could lead you to Key West and Trinidad and even Moscow.  






WE INTERUIPT to feature some of MOFA’S Forsaken Art. These are also samples from our Wallingford Carpets Collection.  All our looms are  home made.












Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.