Odd Fellows Hall site/Rexall Drug Store building

Location: 501 Capitol Way SE
Downtown National Historical District, Wohleb, mid-Century; Diversity: African-Americans

odd fellowsOdd Fellows Building around 1900
Photo from Digital Archives 
gmillerRexall Drug Building today (2012)
Photo courtesy of Deb Ross 

The Odd Fellows Hall, built at the southwest corner of 5th and Capitol Way in 1888, was an important addition to downtown Olympia and was in fitting with her stature as the most important city on Puget Sound at the time. According to a history of the lodge:

Th[e inauguration of the building] was a gala day for Olympia and was participated in by all surrounding Lodges.  Excursion steamers were run from Seattle and Tacoma, bringing crowds of  Odd Fellows accompanied with bands of music and banners, and it is safe to say Olympia never saw such a gathering of Odd Fellows and the hospitalities extended that day will be long remembered by those whose good fortune it was to be the recipients.

The building was also home to Thornburg’s Furnishings store, a hotel, the Rainier, and the Northern Express building at the west end. Bill Williams, an African-American former gold miner and restauranteur, located a boot-blacking stand here, after poor health forced him to take up a more sedentary life. His many years on the seas and among miners made him fluent in several languages, and his career as a boot-black was an opportunity for him to live in relative comfort and become an important element in the social life of downtown Olympia.

The building burned down on January 7, 1937. The Odd Fellows chose not to rebuild, but moved their meeting place to the Barnes building, where they continue to meet on the second floor.

The current building was built in 1937 with a Wohleb design, and he remodeled the building in 1957 for use as a Rexall Drug Store. The location was then a men’s clothing store. It is in the Downtown National Historic District.

For more information about and historic photographs of the building, follow these links:

Digital Archives photographs of the building and fire: OF1 (above photo), OF2, OF3

Washington State Historical Society photographs (enter following catalog numbers in Collections Search box): C1943.2x.35, C1972.37.12; 2010.149.3.2; 2010.149.22; 2010.149.18.2 (Northern Express)

Private postcard collection

Excerpts from 1913 Narrative of IOOF relating to Olympia Lodge No. 1

National Downtown District (location 28)

Thurston.com article about working at Rexall Drugstore (accessed October 20, 2013)

Information about Bill Williams from City of Olympia’s Black Pioneers Walking Tour



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