The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

June 25, 2008

The Beginning and the End of the Old Bellevue Safeway

Filed under: Bellevue, History — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:42 am

Update 1/28/14:  The Downtown Bellevue Network Blog has reported this past weekend that this store, which has sat vacant again for most of the past two years after the Your Local Market store went out of business a little more than six months after it opened, has now been demolished, with construction of the next phase of Lincoln Square expected to begin sometime within the next few months.  You can find their article on this here.

Update 8/25/11:  As some of you have probably heard by now, after over three years of this former Safeway sitting empty, it has been announced that the store will soon be home to Your Local Market, a new independent supermarket focused primarily on local and organic products.  More details can be found at their website.  They are currently planning to open this new store in November of this year.  Within the past couple of months, the former Bartell Drugs space next door has also been reoccupied by Estate Furnishings, a consignment furniture store that was previously located a couple of blocks away on Northeast 8th Street.  With the reoccupation of this building, it seems clear that the second phase of the Lincoln Square development is unlikely to be happening anytime soon.

Over at Vintage Seattle yesterday, I found out that after more than 45 years of continuous operation, the old Marina style Safeway across from Bellevue Square will be closing its doors for the last time tomorrow as Safeway’s new 55,000 square foot flagship store for the Pacific Northwest (more than double the size of this one) prepares to open a block to the south on Friday.  This particular store’s days have been numbered for some time now, and it has already lasted a year longer than it was intended to, as the new Safeway was originally intended to open a year ago.  For the time being, the Bartell Drugs next door will remain open, but this land is now owned by Kemper Freeman, and the chances are good that it will soon become the site of another mixed-use development similar to the nearby Lincoln Square.  As one of the shrinking number of relics from the Bellevue of old, I went to take one last look at this store before it closes for good, and I was also able to find some information from back when it opened.  After the jump, a few photos of the interior of the store, and some background on its history.

This particular Safeway is one of many built in the early to mid 1960s that were patterned after the Marina Avenue store (Google Street View link) in San Francisco that was built in 1959.  That particular store is still in operation today, and has developed a reputation as a singles hangout, which has resulted in the informal nickname of “”Dateway”.  This particular Safeway is in the heart of Downtown Bellevue at the corner of NE 4th and Bellevue Way, across the street from Bellevue Square.

This was one of a number of Marina style Safeway stores that have been built on the Eastside, although besides this one, I only know of one other one (in Bothell) which is still operating as a Safeway.  The former Eastgate Safeway store in the Sunset Village shopping center closed several years ago, and has since been turned into a Toyota dealership, of all things.  Another former Marina Safeway on Sunset Boulevard in Renton is now a St. Vincent de Paul thrift store (EDIT: it turns out the thrift store in question was in fact an Albertsons of a somewhat similar design.  The 1960s Safeway store in Renton Highlands  is still operating as a Safeway, although it has been remodeled to the modern Safeway “lifestyle” design package.)

This particular site was previously occupied by an earlier Bartell Drugs store which was located along Bellevue Way in what is now the parking lot, and was torn down in November 1962, shortly before this store (and the new Bartell Drugs located in the same building) opened.

(From the Bellevue American, November 15 1962, P. 2)

The Safeway store itself opened on January 30th, 1963, complete with all of the requisite fanfare.  It appears that the Bartell Drugs may have been opened shortly before the Safeway did.  The opening of the store made the front page of the Bellevue American on the day that it opened:

(From the Bellevue American, January 30 1963, P. 1)

I apologize for some of the text being difficult to read, but from the article, we find out that this was the largest Safeway store in Western Washington at the time it opened, and that when it opened, it was possible to go between the Safeway and the Bartell Drugs from the inside.  This issue of the BA also had a full page advertisement for the grand opening.  Unfortunately, due to the limitations of the microfilm reader I can’t capture everything at once.

One thing that I’ll note here is that the stone wall texture you see in this image does not match the actual texture of the store’s walls, which are in a stone block pattern (there will be an image of this below.)  Since this was a standard building style used by Safeway at the time this leads me to wonder if this may have been a “stock” image that was modified to add the drugstore.  Then again, line art drawings like this are a fairly common sight in newspaper advertisements of this era, and aside from a pedantic letter-writer to the editor or two, who’s going to care if it’s a little bit off?

It turns out that they made quite a production out of the opening, with giveaway prizes including a trip to Vegas with a flight on a now defunct airline (the hotel’s still alive and kicking though,) (Edit:  Even though the Sahara hotel was still operating at the time I wrote this, it closed its doors in May of 2011, and is currently being converted to the SLS Las Vegas, expected to open in Fall of 2014) and appearances by local celebrities.  At this time, Stan Boreson, the accordion-playing King of Scandinavian Humor was the host of the childrens’ show King’s Klubhouse on KING-TV, part of a TV career that lasted from 1944-1967, and he continues to perform to this day at the age of 82.  Fred Waring was also a popular radio and TV personality noted primarily for his musical talents, but over the years, he also managed to lend his name to the  Waring Blender by providing the financial backing to bring it to the market.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find much good info on Judith Lane, and I suspect most of the results for that name are for a different person.  Can someone fill in the details here?

Fast forwarding to today, we see what has become of this store in the 45+ years in which it has been operating.  While some people may wax nostalgic for old grocery stores such as this one, it doesn’t take long for it to become clear that this particular store falls short of what is expected of a modern-day grocery store.  The aisles are narrow and crowded, the floors are worn from thousands of shoppers and carts, and many of the fixtures are badly outdated.

Many of the Safeway stores on the Eastside have been remodeled in recent years to reflect a more modern image for Safeway, but this store remains something of an oddity.  Although it is somewhat difficult to see here, the sign on this refrigerator would seem to indicate sixties origin (I’d have to guess this one is probably original to the store,) while the sign on top shows a clear 80s influence.

These juxtapositions in style are found throughout the store.  The dairy sign in this picture comes from the early part of this decade before Safeway embarked on their last rebranding campaign, while the background sign comes from the mid Nineties.  The clock above these, on the other hand, is most likely a leftover from 1963.

The flower department, near the front of the store, somehow seems to have avoided much change over the years, and seems to be surprisingly true to original form.  Here, you can see the stone blocks on the wall, the brown linoleum floor, and a pattern on the mirrored glass that was probably outlawed at some point during the Nixon administration.

Finally, we see the checkout area, complete with a sign for a slogan that I’m pretty sure hasn’t been used during my lifetime.  While I was over here taking these pictures, I took a walk over to the new Safeway a block to the south, and took a peek into the window.

Inside this store is a sign touting some of the features of the new store, including such urban essentials as the obligatory olive bar, a nut bar, an expanded selection of cheeses, a home decor section, and even gelato.  As the article referenced above indicates, this new Safeway store is intended to be a flagship for the chain in the Pacific Northwest, and from the looks of things they’re going all out on this one.  Once the new store opens, I will report on it to see if it lives up to the hype.  It would seem that they have a legacy to maintain…

Update: Here are some additional items found on the Internet that may be of interest:

  • Groceteria.com is a site chronicling old supermarkets, and provides a fairly comprehensive history of Safeway.  Their page for Safeway in the 1960s has a number of photos of well-preserved examples of Marina style stores as they would have looked at that time.
  • ‘The Eastside Heritage Center’s archives contain several older photos of this store.  From roughly 1969, we have an aerial photo showing the store and the area to the south on Bellevue Way, as well as a photo of the store’s sign (which was still around in 1987 (as was the Safeway logo on the front of the store,) but had been removed by the time I moved to this area in 1994.
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15 Comments »

  1. Great post! Nice find on the old news articles.

    Cliffe

    Comment by Cliffe — June 25, 2008 @ 2:29 am

  2. Fantastic research and images!!!

    Comment by Michael — June 25, 2008 @ 9:16 pm

  3. nice post, I love seeing the rise and fall of buildings. We have Marina style store in my hometown that has gone through 4 owners, but everyone still calls it the safeway store.

    Comment by justin — June 26, 2008 @ 9:18 am

  4. Old grocery stores make me happy, probably because of the residue of ’50s and ’60s happy-sunshine consumerism….
    But everything has to be updated sooner or later, it’s amazing that one was around so long. Old fixtures are super-energy efficient, they have to go sometime.

    Comment by reccaphoenix — June 29, 2008 @ 8:03 pm

  5. …er, energy-INefficient, I meant to say.

    Comment by reccaphoenix — June 29, 2008 @ 8:04 pm

  6. I grew up in Bellevue in the 60′s and recall that the Safeway had a door where the deli now sits that went into Bartells with those silver turnstiles.
    Also, the flower department use to be a place where they made rotisserie chickens and take out.
    Another memory: On Saturday mornings you could pick up FREE tickets at Safeway on Bellevue Way for kiddie matinees at the John Danz that afternoon at 1 PM. My mom would get the tickets on Saturday morning for me and my friend Mary and she would dump us off at the Danz for the afternoon. I’ll miss the old Safeway for sure. At Bartells, they carried all my favorite Yardley Oh! Del London items. I’ll miss Bartells too.

    Comment by Trisha — July 3, 2008 @ 8:23 am

  7. I used to live by the Dateway for a year, and that old Marina Safeway is one of the busiest grocery stores I have ever seen. It keeps it old character on the outside, but it fully remodeled on the inside.

    I am sure this new Safeway could be the Dateway of the northwest, it is so chic and trendy!

    Comment by Julie — July 3, 2008 @ 1:03 pm

  8. I wish they would have kept it and just remodeled our old Safeway. I wonder if anyone in Bellevue would “get it” though. They take themselves sort of seriously here and anything old is not chic enough.

    Comment by Trisha — July 3, 2008 @ 6:41 pm

  9. What a great series of posts, I first found your blog through a Google search on the old Aurora Village mall earlier this week (11/3/08 or so) and in the search query was a link to this blog and the posts on Totem Lake Malls, Factoria Mall and Crossroads (a great series btw). I remember working as a temp at the old Big 5 Sporting Goods store up in Aurora when they needed to move and stock their new store during I believe an early phase of the rebuilding of the Aurora Village site in 1994 but actually grew up in Tacoma and know the Tacoma Mall pretty well.

    This post on the old Bellevue Safeway reminds me of the old Safeway that used to be in Uptown (Lower Queen Anne Hill) until I think 2000-2001 at the latest when it was torn down and a new safeway with apartments above were built on Mercer and 2nd Ave. It was one of those older Marina style buildings that had seen some remodeling, possibly as late as the 80′s but the logo was the later square version of the 60′s stylized “S” though. What I do recall was the wine dept was tucked into an inset in the corner and had fake dark wood paneling w/ red plastic coke bottle type defusers for the lights above the wine display cases though.

    And there used to be another Marina style Safeway in my old town of University Place (suburb of Tacoma) that moved from it’s location in the mid 70′s to Bridgeport Way in a then new shopping center that had jut been built. I do recall the older styling of the “Thank You for Shopping at Safeway just before leaving the store.

    Comment by ciddyguy — November 7, 2008 @ 5:01 pm

  10. And I should say I used to shop at that old Bellevue Safeway a time or two when I worked for what used to be New Century Mortgage when it was at 116th and NE 12th streets so know it to an extent. Sad to see it go though.

    Comment by ciddyguy — November 7, 2008 @ 5:03 pm

  11. [...] exact date) talking about three Bellevue High School students who were working as bag girls at the old Safeway in downtown Bellevue.  In this day and age, when we shop at the grocery store we generally [...]

    Pingback by Another Look Into the Old Bellevue Safeway « The Sledgehammer - Version 2.0 — November 16, 2008 @ 11:22 pm

  12. Regarding the San Francisco Safeway, which was a prototype for all those now-inadequate
    grocery stores falling to the wrecking ball, the location is on Marina BOULEVARD
    in San Francisco.

    Comment by SFMichele57 — February 16, 2010 @ 2:24 pm

  13. I’m still glad to see the “old” Safeway store model from the ’60s. My mom started using the “old style” Safeway when it was new to us in ’64 near our suburban Alexandria, Va. home off of Ft. Hunt Road, a few miles north of Mt. Vernon (yes, George and Mary’s crib). Mom found this more convenient than going to the out-of-date A&P, built in the ’50s and further north than the Safeway. The A&P stores had a colonial front to them; who wants groceries from the 1700s? The Safeway stores had a Rocket Man glam about them.

    Interesting that our 1938-built Wallingford United Methodist Church chapel, and the soon-to-open LeMay Museum of vintage cars in Tacoma, both have the same stressed-wood ceiling (called “Glulam beams” in regards to the LeMay Museum).

    I sincerely doubt the Ft. Hunt Rd. Safeway was a “Dateway,” though there could have been some action going on with some of the Feds and lobbyists who lived in the D.C. ‘burbs. I wasn’t old enough to know @ the Ft. Hunt Rd. Safeway. We had Bill Moyers living in our ‘hood, but I’ll bet he stayed on the straight and narrow with his current and always wife.

    I’ve read over-and-over “Tales of the City,” “More Tales of the City,” etc., and recall the ribald stories of the Marina Safeway. I so love those stories, part of my gay growing up!

    Comment by Greg H. — December 27, 2011 @ 2:38 pm

  14. BTW, MANY thanks for the press clippings regarding the B’vue Safeway’s opening. What a treasure for me since I didn’t live here ’til the late ’90s (no, not from California).

    Comment by Greg H. — December 27, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

  15. [...] two websites have some really good pictures of a former Safeway in Belelvue. http://thesledgehammer.wordpress.com/2008/06/25/the-beginning-and-the-end-of-the-old-bellevue-safewa… [...]

    Pingback by The Marina Safeway | Cole Kruper — April 17, 2013 @ 9:37 am


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