Union Block site/New City Hall/Safeway Store site

Location: 601 4th Ave E
mid-Century modern (Safeway Building)

union blockUnion Block 1894, Image courtesy of Washington State Historical Societynew city hallCity Hall today (2012), Photo by Matthew Kennelly

The two photographs above dramatically illustrate the transformation wrought by the succession of fills that have shaped Olympia over the years. This location is between Chestnut and Cherry Streets on Fourth Avenue. The Union Block building was erected here about 1892, partly funded by W.A. Van Epps, who moved his store, “The Fair,”  here, its fourth and final move (see links below for other locations associated with the Van Epps family). The building housed several retail establishments on the ground floor, and offices on the second floor. Six of them were rented by the legislature in 1895, while the state had outgrown its space in the original territorial capitol building and had yet to acquire the Old State Capitol building. Its location near the Olympia Theatre was noted in the resolution to rent these rooms at $5 a day. The building was erected at what was then the southern end of the Swantown Slough, with the slough extending around it to the west (towards downtown). This site was already located on fill, as shown in the 1879 Bird’s Eye map (link below) where Cherry and Chestnut Streets are not yet in existence. In 1911, the Carlyon Fill finished the filling in of the slough, permitting an undivided strip of Fourth Avenue to be developed for commercial and light industrial purposes.

A photograph of the Van Epps store, catalogued at the Washington State Historical Society, notes that W.A. Van Epps’s investment in the Union Block proved unsuccessful and led to financial difficulties for the family. He sold The Fair in mid-1895 and retired from the business.

A Safeway store was built on this site in 1963, then razed to make way for the new Olympia City Hall, which was completed in 2011.

Further information:

Washington State Historical Society photographs (enter the following catalog numbers in Collections Search box): C1957.134x.17 (above picture); C1943.1006.5 (interior of Van Epps store at Union Block)

Olympia Heritage Inventory, Safeway Building (demolished)

For more information on the Van Epps family and otherVan Epps store sites, see Van Epps store, Van Epps Building, and Pacific Building and Residents section of this website

Bird’s Eye View of Olympia 1879 (this location would be center of bridge to east Olympia in this map)

 

 

 

 

 

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