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Former downtown Tacoma department store on auction block

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on Feb. 11, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
February 12, 2013 3:33 am

One of the historic retail cornerstones of downtown Tacoma goes on the auction block at the end of this month.

The Columbia Bank Building at South 11th Street and Broadway will be auctioned online beginning Feb. 25th and ending Feb. 27th.

Columbia Bank Building former Bon Marche
Columbia Bank Building former Bon Marche

The building was once downtown Tacoma’s Bon Marche department store before the retailer moved to the Tacoma Mall in 1964.

The Bon was one of five department stores – four of them on Broadway – that were the anchors of downtown Tacoma shopping for decades. The others were Rhodes, Sears, J.C. Penney and Peoples.

The five-story, 88,000-square-foot building sat vacant until 1980 when it was converted to an office building. The structure was remodeled in 1999. The building bears the name of its anchor tenant, Columbia Bank. Columbia sold the building to a limited liability company in 2004 for $8.4 million according to Pierce County records.

The building is in the hands of a receiver now who has hired a New York-based real estate company, Rockwood Real Estate Advisors, to handle the building’s disposition. Rockwood has scheduled an on-line auction on Auction.com. The building will go to the highest bidder if that bidder offers an amount above the building’s undisclosed reserve price.

The Pierce County Assessor’s office lists the building’s assessed value at $6.77 million. The minimum starting bid is listed as $1.5 million.

The structure is about 67 percent occupied with the bank and several law firms as the principal tenants. The real estate listing classifies the structure as Class B office space.

The building was constructed in 1905 by Cornell Brothers contractors for the Fisher Department Store. The structure of brick and Tenino sandstone was designed by architect Frederick Heath. Heath was a prolific creator of significant Pierce County buildings. Among his notable work are Stadium and Lincoln high schools, the Pythian Temple, the Paradise Inn at Mount Rainier and the 16-story Key Bank Tower at 1119 Pacific Avenue.

The Bon Marche took over Fisher in 1952 and gave the Tacoma store the Bon Marche name.
Directly across South 11th Street from the former Bon Marche was Rhodes Brothers Department Store. Rhodes was acquired by Amfac in 1969. Amfac owned the Liberty House department store chain. Amfac closed the downtown store in December 1974. It had opened a Liberty House at Tacoma in 1973. That department store was located in the mall building now occupied by Nordstrom.

Rhodes Center, former Rhodes Brothers department store
Rhodes Center, former Rhodes Brothers department store

The Rhodes Building was later converted into the University of Puget Sound Law School. When the law school was purchased by Seattle University and moved to the Emerald City, the state bought the building and renamed in the Rhodes Center.

Just south of the Bon Marche on Broadway was the much smaller Frye Building that housed the J.C. Penney department store until that store likewise move to the Tacoma Mall shortly after the Bon.
Farther south on Broadway at South 13th was Sears, which kept its downtown store until the early ‘80s when it joined the other stores at the mall. The Sears buildings were renovated in the early ‘80s as part of the Tacoma Center project.

Frye Building, former J.C. Penney
Frye Building, former J.C. Penney

The former Sears buildings housed the headquarters of Hillhaven Corporation, one of the nation’s largest nursing home chains until that company was bought by a Kentucky-based medical care chain in 1995. The Sears building subsequently served as the temporary home of the downtown public library while the library’s Tacoma Avenue building was being renovated. Now the structure is an office building.

The fifth downtown department store, Peoples, was the only one not located on Broadway. That store did business at South 11th and Pacific Avenue in a building that now houses Key Bank’s regional offices. Peoples was the last survivor of the downtown Tacoma department stores closing in 1984.

The former Peoples Store (brown building at center)
The former Peoples Store (brown building at center)
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