The Frederick & Nelson department store, ca 1925This postcard was published by the Lowman & Hanford Company of Seattle. Some might think it is a rather silly postcard to keep but a second look for those familiar with the building might think twice. Those of us a bit older would say, “Hey, wait a minute that building has only about half as many floors as the Frederick’s I remember.“ For the younger group it might be “Frederick & Nelson? What’s that? That building is now the downtown Nordstrom’s.”
What with the tricks, quirks of time and happenstance our extended family has had some connections with Fredrick & Nelson. This fact occurred to me as I was putting together yesterdays post about Harald Landaas. Of the articles I read about Henrik Valle (Harald’s brother-in-law) one suggested that he had worked on the basement of the first Frederick’s building. I do not think that possible unless it was a remodel of the second building because the very first building opened in 1890 as a second hand furniture store located on First Avenue this second building is on Fifth Avenue. The Fifth Avenue building was opened in September 1918 or about 7 years before Henrik left Norway for America. However, Valle Construction Company was hired in 1950 to add five more floors to the existing building. They did such a good job it didn’t look like an addition. The only hint was the roof line of the original building that became the exterior molding between the fifth and sixth floors. Apparently there was a place in the interior stairway between those two floors that evidenced the addition too. Customers did not generally use the stairway opting to go up by elevator or escalator instead but employees did.
A second connection comes through the bricklayer, Sam Hillevang who was married to Harald’s sister, Klara Landaas. Two of Sam’s granddaughters were puzzled about which department store their grandfather had worked on. They knew he got the job through Valle Construction and that it was in the 1950s, but there was some discussion as to whether it was The Bon or Fredrick’s. One of them asked me if I could find out which store it was but it wasn’t until I found an article by Svein Gilje in the Seattle Times (1980) stating that Valle Construction had done the addition in 1950-1951 that I knew for certain that it had to have been Frederick’s. As a result of the fine work Valle Construction did on the addition to the Fifth Avenue store they were hired to build the new Bellevue Square store without having to submit a bid.
Another connection is my sister-in-law who began working at Frederick’s in the 1970s. She worked in a couple of different departments before settling in the personnel department on the 9th floor of the Fifth Avenue store for several years. When I called to ask her a few things I remembered about the store she was able to fill in some gaps. Here are a few fun facts and figures about the store from her and from Wikipedia.
1. During the 1940s Frederick’s established a “Victory Post” on the main floor where they sold war bonds and stamps. Over 90% of the employees invested at least 10 percent of their earnings in war bonds. Because of this high participation Frederick’s was one of only a few stores that received a U.S. Treasury Department T-Flag.
2. The store philosophy was “If a customer asks for it, get it and if enough people want the same thing, start a department.”
3. When the Fifth Avenue store opened in 1918 over 25,000 shoppers and guests made it through the doors that day.
4. The store had ten floors above ground and two below. The lunch counter I fondly remembered was located in the first basement. The second basement was for deliveries and not open to the general shopping public.
5. The store had a beauty salon, post office, movie auditorium, a fully equipped medical facility, a nursery, reading and writing rooms, a bakery, a tearoom that could seat 400, and a modern candy kitchen. The candy kitchen was on the 10th floor.
6. Frango – the name probably came from Fr for Frederick and ango from the tango dance craze. Frango dessert was a frozen flaky chocolate delight eaten with a fork. The dessert line also included pies, ice cream, sodas and milk shakes but the one that has lasted is the chocolate mint truffle. Today there are several different flavors but mint was first. At one time the candy kitchen produced 500,000 pounds of Frango chocolates in a year. After the store closed in 1992 Frangos were produced by The Bon and when The Bon was sold to Macy’s they have continued to make them. There is nothing like a Frango. They are delicious!
7. Frederick’s always had a Door Man who greeted customers and opened the door. For a long while they had elevator operators as well but they were phased out in later years.
8. Frederick’s used to host art exhibits in a gallery on the same floor as the Tea Room (8th floor). I won a prize for one of my drawings and it was displayed in the gallery. It was a very exciting thing to go downtown and into the elegant Frederick’s store to see my picture hanging there. Never forgot the thrill.
9. Frederick’s was famous for the Christmas breakfasts with Santa Claus and I think there was an Easter brunch too.
10. The display windows were huge and ringed the street level. One of the display artists, Hugh Mann, would travel the world looking for items to put in the windows. One year there were automated figures for the Christmas windows. The electric model train window was another big attraction.
11. Santa Claus sat in a window that had an outside entrance. It was an annual event for many families to get pictures taken with the Frederick’s Santa.
For those of us who do remember the Frederick’s store with fondness and for those who missed out, I hope this post has painted a picture of what the grand days of a large department store were like.
For more information about Frederick & Nelson see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_%26_Nelson
For more information about Henrik Valle see http://depts.washington.edu/uwvalle/historical-background And http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=3476