Location: 210 4th Ave E
National Downtown Historic District, Popular Culture; Diversity: African-Americans

Columbia Hall 1902, Washington State Historical Society Columbia Building

Columbia Building today (2012) photograph by Deborah Ross

The Columbia Hall was built on 4th Avenue near the center of downtown Olympia in 1869. It served a myriad of functions: fire station on the ground floor, city offices above, entertainment hall (it hosted the state’s first inaugural ball in 1889), police headquarters, courthouse, and theater. The building was a near-replica of the Territorial Capitol, and its prominent cupola serves as a location finding aid for historians in many early downtown photographs.

In 1883 the Columbia Engine Company No. 1, one of Olympia’s volunteer firefighting organizations, elected thirteen year old Jesse Mars as a member of the department. Jesse, the son of restauranteur James Mars (see Our House Restaurant)  is the earliest known African-American to serve as a firefighter in Olympia. He died of an illness at age 21.

After the City Hall building at the corner of State and Capitol was built in 1912, the building was acquired by businessman P.M. Troy (see Troy House) and leased out for stores and offices to several organizations and businesses, including the Eagles on the second floor, a candy store, and the J.L. Reed Shoe Shop.

In June 1914 the hall burned down, and soon after, the Columbia Building was erected by P.M. Troy and Fred Stocking. Its name bears tribute to the hall that formerly stood on the site. The building features an ornate terra cotta face and recessed central doors. For many years, the first floor has housed a popular local eatery and bar. The building is in the National Downtown Historical District and is recognized as bearing an important part in the district, although it is not individually on the local register.

Additional links:

Digital Archives Columbia building; (above left); Digital archives  showing the Columbia Fire Brigade outside the building

Olympia Heritage inventory (Columbia Building)

Washington State Historical Society,enter the following catalog number in Collections Search box: C1943.1003.10 (showing building with Police Headquarters sign); 1943.42.1400;  2010.149.1.1 (J.L. Reed Shoe Shop in 1914)

1879 Bird’s Eye View of Olympia (marked #12, Town Hall)

National Downtown Olympia Historic District

Listing for Washington State Library archival collection of programs from the Columbia Hall

Thurston County Courthouses Story Map

Copyright © 2022 Deborah Ross