Location: 1003 Capitol Way S
Wohleb; Transportation

davis-brown-derbyMenu cover from Davis’ Brown Derby, private collection
davis brown derby
Davis’ Brown Derby Building today (2015), photo by Deb Ross

The Davis’ Brown Derby restaurant opened on Capitol Way in 1935, by George and Martha Davis. The Davises moved here from Centralia, where they had operated another small restaurant. Architect Joseph Wohleb built out this structure in front of a bungalow in which the Davises resided. It is still in existence, visible through a small entryway between two sides of the building. The Davises and Wohleb no doubt took inspiration from the famous Brown Derby restaurant chain in Los Angeles, which launched the careers of several starlets and was featured in several movies and television shows. Like its more famous namesake, it is decorated with derbies above its mid-Century marquis.

The Pacific Highway in Washington State was designated in 1910, at the advent of the automobile age, to connect the cities of Washington State. In 1926, it later became part of U.S. Route 99, the major north-south route on the West Coast. In Olympia, the Pacific Highway proceeded along Capitol Way and then turned onto Fourth Avenue. Along with the highway’s establishment came the need for automobile-oriented businesses. Olympia obliged by creating and promoting several eating establishments, hotels, and automotive services along the route. Joseph Wohleb was responsible for the design of several of these buildings along Capitol Way, including the Brown Derby, the Dairy Queen Building, and the Weidner Auto court motel. But the Brown Derby was also very popular with locals, including Supreme Court justices, legislators, lobbyists, and governors over its 40 year existence. In 1980 the restaurant closed, but the current owner, who operates an antique store here, has maintained its period marquis and art moderne aesthetic.

City of Olympia, mid-Century modern context statement, page 16

Copyright © 2022 Deborah Ross