Vacant block in downtown Vancouver has full history

Do the 'Time Warp' and revisit site through the years

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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Block 10 throughout the years

Block 10 in downtown Vancouver is vacant now but has been home to many businesses over the years.

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The Vancouver Downtown Association is looking for people to share their memories about businesses on Block 10. Contact the association at 360-258-1129 or email director@vdausa.org.

If Low Bar came up with a "Time Warp" cocktail that sent patrons to the past, thirsty visitors would see a very different landscape than the temporary park that's grown across the way.

With the initial kick — because it's undoubtedly a potent drink — they might find themselves on the corner of Eighth and Washington streets at the turn of the last century.

Looking over at what's now called "Block 10," a target for the Vancouver Downtown Association's redevelopment efforts, the time-traveling customers might ponder the horse-drawn wagon that transported paint and wallpaper for the Gushing Wallpaper Store.

Or, if they were seriously rethinking the ramifications of the drink they just had, they might seek redemption on the store's second floor, which housed a makeshift Methodist church.

Along the street, men and women would be taking part in the latest craze, enjoying purchases from the Preston Bicycle Shop just down the block.

"There was a huge bicycle fad," said Pat Jollota, a Clark County historian and former city counselor. "There were trails all over the place. The bicycle was a huge leap forward, especially for women. It let women leave their father's shelter and go out with a huge sense of freedom."

Cycling travelers could head over to the Andresen Grocery, the W.E. Carter Wholesale Grocery or B.P. Youmans Hardware, along the Washington Street side of the block. There they could pick up farming supplies, bike parts, tobacco, bran, salt, malt, yeast or even a refreshing root beer.

The Depression and the war

As the drink's initial kick started to wear off, our time-traveling cocktail enthusiasts might find themselves moving forward in time, to the sad landscape of "Block 10" in 1933. With prohibition in effect and the Great Depression in full force, there'd be no legal way to freshen the drink and flash back to the earlier days.

Along the block, Andrew Stentson shoe repair, the Fixit Shop and Barter & Exchange Inc. seemed a testament to remaining frugal.

"In '33, we were in bad shape," Jollota said. "We were in the depths of the depression, our breweries were shut down, lumber was hurting because nobody was building homes."

The city's other big industry, prune production, also found itself in a slump — especially after World War I ended.

"The prune industry's biggest customers were brandy makers and Germany," Jollota said. "The brandy makers were out of business, and we had just destroyed Germany."

It was also a violent time in the city's past, with bootleggers and other criminals looking for ways to make a quick buck, she said.

It took a few years for the city to come back after Prohibition was repealed in December 1933, but by 1936, things were slowly starting to perk up again.

Our cocktail enthusiast could finally take a seat at Murray's Cafe, housed at 809 Washington St., the address that would eventually become the home of Low Bar. The cafe was owned by Clarence Murray, grandfather of Gerry Murray, who now owns the building next door that houses Tommy O's.

By 36, the Star Brewery Co., originally founded in 1890, had reopened at its site a few blocks down from the area and was ramping up production.

Old businesses like the Fixit Shop and Andrew Stentson shoe repair were joined by the revamped Preston Cycle and Key Service and new companies such as the Good Housekeeping Shop, Harry Beatty Watchmaker and the Rasmussen Book and Stationary Co.

"In '36, they finished the Bonneville Dam, Alcoa (Aluminum) had some jobs here, and the economy really started to take off a few years later when World War II brought about 35,000 workers to the shipyards," Jollota said.

And, of course, the beer was flowing, helping those thirsty workers find some needed refreshment, she added.

Car culture

By 1940, Wolf's Auto Supply Co., Todd Electric Contractors, the Olson Electric Co. and the Italian Cafe had joined other businesses along Block 10.

Across the way, Murray's Cafe, perhaps disturbed at the thought of a looming international battle of cafes, changed its name to Murray's Lunch.

As World War II came to an end, Wolf's was joined by other companies looking to cash in on the city's growing car culture. Along the Eighth Street side of Block 10, Munro & Bolma Auto Repairs and Al's Auto Service Gas Station opened their doors, shortly followed by Turner & Herrman Used Cars.

At the same time, perhaps in an attempt to capitalize on the growing market of beer drinkers, Murray's Lunch changed its name once more, to Murray's Lunch and Beer Parlor. The watering hole finally settled on the name Murray's Tavern in 1952, when Gerry Murray's father, Clarence Murray, took over the business.

Through the '50s, the block continued to transform. Preston Cycle and Key Services turned into Preston's Sporting Goods. And Furniture Dealers Outlet and the Salvation Army Thrift Shop opened next to a smattering of barbers, beauty shops and a vacuum cleaner store.

During the '60s and early '70s, the business population along the block hit a slow, steady decline, despite the bustling downtown area around Main Street, said Gregg Herrington, a longtime Columbian newsroom employee who is now the spokesman for Battle Ground Public Schools.

Through those years, "downtown (around Main Street) was more vibrant than it has been in the last few decades," Herrington said. "On the other hand, Esther Short Park wasn't as nice. The (Vancouver Farmers) Market and the high rises weren't there."

Only a few companies were left on the block by the early '70s, including Munroe & Bolma Auto, His 'n Hers Beauty Salon, Clauson's Office Supply and Johansen Sewing Machine Co.

Brewery blocks to barren

In 1975, the last businesses were gone and the lot razed to make way for an expansion of the Lucky Lager Brewing Co., formerly called Star Brewery Co. Inc. and Interstate Brewing Co.

From 1975 until the brewery closed in 1985, the lot was used mainly for employee and truck parking as part of what was colloquially known as the "Brewery Blocks."

After that, the lot remained unused. The city of Vancouver bought the abandoned brewery, which included Block 10, for $2 million in 1994.

At the time, the area was somewhat run down, but "it was not a dangerous, slummy place," Herrington said. "It just wasn't as nice as that area is now."

Over the years, a few companies have considered developing the area, but so far nothing's panned out.

Kaiser Permanente discussed locating its headquarters on the block in the mid 1990s. Private investors also talked about building a high-density commercial area, and others suggested turning it into an arts center or green space.

But other than its use as a temporary staging area during construction of the VancouverCenter, the site has remained vacant since 1985.

A toast to the future

Lee Rafferty, executive director of the Vancouver Downtown Association, said she would love to see housing or a grocery store appear on the property.

In an effort to beautify downtown, her group has built the temporary park, with flags and some greenery, so the landscape will feel more welcoming.

After about a year of work on the temporary park, a few Esther Short Park events, such as the All Church Picnic and Recycled Arts Festival, plan to use it for spillover, she said.

"We're trying to create a space that is safe, has some points of interest and that will make it more attractive for people to walk from corner to corner," Rafferty said. "But we'll celebrate when the lot is sold and we can take the park apart."

If she got a chance to knock back one of Low Bar's "Time Warp" cocktails, Rafferty said she'd like to take a trip to the lot's future.

"I'd like to see happy balconies with a school bus stopping out front," she said. "I want to see a pharmacy, and bike racks, art, offices and maybe a major downstairs tenant whose first name is 'Trader.' I'd be sitting in Low Bar and I'd be just loving all that."

Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457; http://www.twitter.com/col_suevo;sue.vorenberg@columbian.com