Seattle Now & Then: Sixth & Pike, 1969

(click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN: In 1969, the two-floor brick building on the southwest corner of Sixth & Pike sparkled with colorful marquees, anchored the wraparound neon of Burt’s Credit Jewelers. The decorative black-and-white squares above gave the modest edifice an inexpensive focal point to draw eyes upward. (Frank Shaw / Paul Dorpat collection)
NOW: With a welcoming gesture at the southwest corner of Sixth & Pike, which had been dominated by his grandfather Max Bender’s store, Burt’s Credit Jewelers, stands Scott Bender, who carries on the family business tradition with his jewelry in Bellevue. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Jan. 28, 2021
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Jan. 31, 2021)

Confident commerce of a colorful corner beckons from 1969
By Clay Eals

As we envision a post-virus time when the heart of the city can feel colorful again, this red-bricked beauty with its kaleidoscopic signage serves as a talisman.

The scene, the southwest corner of Sixth & Pike, is specific to the day — Sept. 21, 1969, an overcast Sunday afternoon with no one on the streets. But the stillness masks a season that was anything but quiet.

Richard Nixon was president, Woodstock had drawn 350,000 rock fans, Sen. Edward Kennedy had driven off the Chappaquiddick bridge, Neil Armstrong had walked on the moon, and the anti-war “Chicago Eight” trial was nigh. Locally, the first Boeing 747 had taken flight, the Seafirst Tower (peeking at top left) had opened, and the Seattle Pilots were finishing their lone baseball season.

Anchoring this modest corner with sparkling neon and a perpetually opening and closing ring box was Burt’s Credit Jewelers, “the Northwest’s only diamond cutters.” Latvian immigrant Max Bender started the store in 1926, operating it until its closure in 1975 after the family launched a Ballard outpost.

Next to Burt’s was the equally enduring Home of the Green Apple Pie. Opening on Union Street across from the post office in 1918 and arriving at Sixth & Pike in 1932, this restaurant and bar, founded by Myrtle and Floyd Smith, swelled with cheeky hype. For example, a Nov. 4, 1960, Seattle Post-Intelligencer ad claimed “15 Million Persons (They Could Swing This Election) Have Eaten the Pies Baked on the Premises.” In 1971, the eatery bragged of having served up (urp!) more than 4 million pies. By decade’s end, it had closed.

On the second floor percolated an early outlet for Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), before the outdoors giant expanded to Capitol Hill and later to its flagship along Interstate 5.

Minnesotan Dick Swenson recalls carrying a folding camp tool he had just invented, called the Sven-Saw, as he bounded up the long flight of stairs to REI while visiting the World’s Fair in 1962. Greeting him was REI’s first full-time employee, Jim Whittaker, one year from becoming the first American to scale Mount Everest. Whittaker eyed the saw and said, “Why don’t you send me six?” When Swenson got home, Whittaker had ordered another six. REI remains Sven-Saw’s best retailer.

No surprise, the building eventually gave way to a high-rise, half-block business complex, City Centre. From 1995 to 2004, the corner’s newly rounded façade housed a flashy branch of FAO Schwarz toys, accented by a 15-foot-tall waving bronzed teddy bear outside.

With its legacy of commercial ingenuity, this charmed corner stands ready for post-virus life.


To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Below are two additional photos and, in chronological order, 39 historical clippings from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archives (available via Seattle Public Library) and other online newspaper sources that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

Special thanks to Linnea Swenson Tellekson for her assistance with this column!

Dick Swenson (right) displays the Sven-Saw, a folding camp tool, during a mid-1960s trade show in Chicago. (Courtesy Linnea Swenson Tellekson)
Dick Swenson and the Sven-Saw, summer 2020, at Namakan Lake in upper Minnesota. (Courtesy Linnea Swenson Tellekson)
July 26, 1933, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 23.
June 22, 1934, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 7.
May 10, 1936, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 40.
Sept. 26, 1954, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 76.
Feb. 19, 1956, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 79.
Sept. 30, 1956, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 138.
Aug. 11, 1958, Seattle Times, page 14.
May 15, 1960, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 70.
Oct. 30, 1960, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 78.
Nov. 4, 1960, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 5.
Feb. 23, 1961, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 23.
March 16, 1961, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 20.
Aug. 12, 1961, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 9.
Aug. 24, 1961, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 24.
April 19, 1962, Seattle Times, page 31.
May 18, 1962, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 59.
Sept. 12, 1962, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 10.
Dec. 8, 1963, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 26.
July 3, 1964, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 17.
Nov. 10, 1964, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 22.
March 30, 1965, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 29.
Nov. 16, 1967, Seattle Times, page 77.
Nov. 26, 1967, Seattle Times, page 241.
Nov. 26, 1967, Seattle Times, page 242.
Dec. 24, 1967, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 24.
Oct. 30, 1970, Seattle Times, page 33.
Nov. 26, 1970, Seattle Times, page 29.
June 20, 1971, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 92.
Feb. 6, 1972, Seattle Times, page 82.
May 19, 1972, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 30.
May 20, 1972, Seattle Times, page 9.
Sept. 16, 1972, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 8.
Nov. 25, 1972, Seattle Times, page 24.
Oct. 3, 1975, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 41.
Oct. 6, 1976, Seattle Times, page 68.
April 10, 1977, Seattle Times
June 17, 1979, Seattle Times, page 180.
July 22, 1979, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 138.
Oct. 17, 1979, Seattle Times, page 120.
Nov. 7, 1979, Seattle Times, page 123.


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