Thorp Motors building (south end)/Parker and Coulter/first Territorial Legislature site/Gold Bar restaurant site

Location: 222 Capitol Way N
Diversity: Chinese; Transportation

gold bar restaurantGold Bar Restaurant about 1900, photograph by W.A. Van Epps, courtesy of Washington State Historical Society
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThorp Motors building today (south end) (2014), photo by Deb Ross

As can be seen from the long name for this site, it plays a rich and important role in Olympia’s history. Before the arrival of Europeans, this area was home and host to a variety of Coast Salish people. This site would have been about two blocks south of the then-waterfront, thus located at a convenient and accessible spit of land for gatherings and residences. Europeans arrived here in the early 19th century, but Americans did not attempt to settle in what later became Olympia until Edmund Sylvester and Levi Lathrop Smith arrived here and built cabins in this neighborhood, each staking out a donation claim for himself that they agreed to bequeath to each other.

Shortly after this, the United States reached agreement with Great Britain to claim this area as part of Oregon Territory, thus legitimizing Sylvester and Smith’s claim, at least with respect to Great Britain. After Smith’s sudden death, Sylvester inherited this property, along with most of what is now downtown Olympia. Indian claims were not extinguished until after the so-called Indian Wars of 1855 and 1856, with the Medicine Creek Treaty.

Meanwhile, in 1853, merchants John Parker and Sam Coulter established a general merchandise store at this spot, which was then the center of the small American community, still vastly outnumbered by Native Americans. At first this was a one-story building, but Edmund Sylvester, its original builder, soon added a second story. The second story was accessible through an outdoor staircase. This was the same year that Washington Territory split off from Oregon Territory, and  Isaac I Stevens arrived to become the first territorial governor. It was decided to hold the first territorial legislature in the upstairs rooms of the Parker and Coulter building. A plaque now commemorates this site.

In time, the Parker and Coulter firm dissolved, and the building became the famed Gold Bar Restaurant. It was presided over by a number of owners and chefs, among them Toone Ah James, one of several Chinese cooks in Olympia.

As the center of commercial life moved southwards towards Sylvester Park and beyond, this area of town became shabbier and less respectable. In the late 1880s, the City passed an ordinance decreeing that all businesses north of Third Avenue (State Avenue) would have laxer regulations of such activities as prostitution, gambling, opium smoking, and drinking (see Tenderloin District). The Gold Bar restaurant, as well as the Pacific House next door, fell into decline. The building was demolished in 1909.

The large building currently occupying the location of the Gold Bar was the home of Thorp Motors, erected in 1945. Many automotive-associated building occupied, and continue to occupy, this industrialized area of Olympia, carrying on the area’s long transportation-related history. The building is now home to several businesses. On its south side there is a mural commemorating Rebecca Howard, the manager of the Pacific House, which was located next door at the corner of State and Capitol.

Links:

Olympia Heritage inventory (Thorp Motors building)

Olympia Heritage inventory sheet, Territorial legislature plaque

Washington State Historical Society photographs (enter the following catalog numbers in Collections Search box): 1943.42.1402 (1902 photograph by Asahel Curtis); 1924.32.1 (ca. 1900 photograph); laying of commemorative plaque in 1913: 2013.0.216. A model of the building, constructed out of the timbers from the Parker and Coulter store building, catalogue C2008.169.1, is now located at Washington State Historical Society

Article, Sapp, Olympia 100 Years Ago

1879 Bird’s Eye View of Olympia, showing the proximity of this site to the waterfront on three sides. The New England Hotel is the two story structure with balconies at the corner of Second and Main (Olympia Avenue and Capitol Way)

For more information on the James , Parker, Coulter, and Sylvester families, see the Residents section of this website.

 

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