Our Northwest

Taking a last look at our old neighborhood

Thursday, October 1, 2015by  Jon Osterberg

PEMCO moves into newly remodeled headquarters one mile across town in mid-November. We’ve taken a few retrospective looks lately at changes since 1949 in our Cascade-South Lake Union neighborhood.
     Features last March, April, May, and June showed how growth has changed local neighborhoodshomes and businesses, roads, and even hydroplane havens.
     For this final “then and now” feature, I wanted to look at the adjacent blocks as seen from our home of 66 years here at 325 Eastlake Avenue E.
     The top photo shows the parking lot behind our original building in January 1958. Those everyday commuter cars would be museum pieces today! The 1957 Chev at the right, even though it’s a 4-door, would fetch big bucks.
     The same view today shows our seven-story building (three floors are underground) and our older structure on the left, which was superseded by our tower in 1971 and topped by a time-temperature sign that we’re told has become iconic for Seattleites.
     In 1989, customers drove their damaged cars to our Claims Drive-In at 1220 Republican, just two blocks away. This was one of many spread across Washington. (Nowadays, customers simply go to one of many convenient body shops of their choice to get PEMCO repair estimates.)
     That building on Republican has long since been razed. The property now is home to Lake Union Veterinary Clinic, Salon Centric beauty supply, and high-rise housing.
     In 1992, PEMCO decided to build a new Claims Drive-In kitty-corner from our headquarters. To build it we acquired corner property from Overall Laundry, whose main plant occupied the block across the street to the east – today, the site of REI. That corner property, on Thomas and Yale, was vacated when I shot this May 1992 photo. The next day, crews demolished the old structure.
     The new Claims Drive-In opened in late September 1992, but it too was destined for the wrecking ball. The current photo shows that property today, the site of Alley24, a joint venture between PEMCO and Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc.  Alley24 opened in 2006.
     Among its businesses and retailers, Alley24 includes Espresso Vivace, a street-level café across from REI that serves the best coffee I’ve ever tasted. (Sorry, Pioneer!) I’ll miss Vivace when we move to 1300 Dexter this fall.
     Seattleites also have come to know Alley24 as home to Lunchbox Laboratory, Hipcooks cooking school, and the worldwide headquarters for NBBJ architects, plus apartments, lofts, and townhomes.
     Speaking of Overall Laundry, the black and white photo with PEMCO on the horizon shows the big, white Overall complex as it looked in spring 1994. A colleague shot the photo from above what soon became Feathered Friends outdoor gear on Yale Avenue.
     Today I went to Feathered Friends and was allowed access to the private floor above, where I shot the current view through a window. Where Overall once stood, REI’s flagship store is now somewhat visible (though its prominent climbing tower is easily seen) behind a perimeter of trees. And beyond that, you can make out PEMCO’s flag and time-temperature sign.
     If you look carefully at the 1994 shot of this view, you can barely see a building tacked on to the end of Overall’s structure, at the corner of Yale and Thomas. That’s the former St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, built in 1921. It closed when the congregation built a new church in 1962 on Boyer Avenue East. Overall Laundry bought the old church and turned it into a warehouse.
     In February 1995, workers demolished the former Greek Orthodox Church, and soon excavation began for the foundation of REI’s new store. Behind PEMCO’s Claims Drive-In is the brick New Richmond Laundry complex, which later was partially retained and incorporated into the façade of the Alley24 residences.
     Today, REI and Alley24 dominate the landscape, while construction cranes underscore the evolving nature of our neighborhood, now home to Amazon.com and other technology firms.
     At the northeast corner of REI’s property, a tarnished old home housed a sign shop and a computer store in the 1980s and early ’90s. Our Graphics Department colleagues called it “the crack house” because of the nefarious activity they swore took place there.
     Whatever its name, that house was a remnant of the old Eastlake Avenue residential community. In fact, PEMCO’s current tower was built in 1971 on the footprint of three homes dating to the early 20th century. The rickety house shown here stood for the last time on Jan. 16, 1995, when it was leveled.
     Today the site is part of the massive REI complex. (Which, I should add, I’ll also miss – as a backpacker/hiker/camper, I’ve spent many hours and dollars shopping in that wonderfully convenient co-op.)
     But now, Dexter Avenue beckons. PEMCO soon will write a new chapter in a new neighborhood. Onward and upward!

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Comments on this post

personPEMCO Insurance05/13/2019 11:25 AM
Nik - Photos are from PEMCO's archives. There are some old photos of the neighborhood online at MOHAI as part of the Webster Stevens collection.
personNik K05/10/2019 07:29 PM
Any idea where I could find this pictures? Thanks!
personJon Osterberg10/28/2015 04:14 PM
Kelly, our current building won't be demolished. According to a recent article, the buyers might remodel it for a technology company seeking a South Lake Union presence.
personKelly Wilson10/28/2015 01:52 PM
Hi Jon! That's a great article - really enjoyed it. Recently saw a history lecture on Seattle apartment buildings and she mentioned how popular laundries were in the old days. I'll miss not seeing the building from I-5 (I imagine it will be demolished before long) - end of an era.  Cheers!
personRON SURIANO10/03/2015 05:09 PM
its a good trip down memory lane!  thanks Jon

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