The White Building, including 207, 209 and 211 4th Avenue East, is one of the oldest existing commercial buildings in downtown Olympia. As part of the Olympia Downtown Historic District, its origins reflect the booming small business economy of early 20th century Olympia.
As described on the National Register of Historic Places application for the Downtown Olympia Historic District, the White Building is typical of the American Renaissance-style business structures that characterize that area of the city. Constructed for $10,000 in 1908 by Allen White, the building has undergone several renovations but retains many original features.
The site, situated at the historic heart of what was downtown Olympia’s commercial district, had several buildings on the location before the 1908 construction of the White Building. The structure immediately before the White Building appears to be known as the “Damon Building.” Built in 1903 by A.O. Damon on a vacant lot nicknamed the “Frog Pond,” it was rented out to small, local businesses. By April, 1907 the Damon Building housed J. A. Hunt’s confectionary and cigar store and E. H. Mahler’s barber shop.
However, on April 14, 1907 at 11:00 p.m., disaster struck. A defective flue in the cigar store started a fire. No one was injured, but the wooden structure burned to the ground in an hour. Nearby buildings suffered major damage.
In August, 1907 Allen White bought part of the Damon property. Another part was purchased by Henry Mallory, who soon built the Gottfeld Building, which still stands today. By early October construction began on the White Building with A. F. Baird contracted to put in a cement foundation. By the following August the building was completed.
Allen White (1852-1925), the building’s namesake and sponsor, was a leading lumberman and capitalist in the Olympia area. Born in Canada, he was a business partner in the C. H. Springer Mill and owned his own mill in Elma, among other business ventures. He was also heavily involved in community affairs, serving as director of the YMCA and actively participating in the First Methodist Church.
Soon after its completion, Allen White rented his new building out to tenants. Over the years the structure has had many businesses and offices located in it, ranging from medical professionals to a United States Forest Service office. Perhaps the two most famous tenants, however, were the White House Hotel and Reder’s Grocery.
The White House Hotel moved into the upstairs immediately after the White Building opened. It was first owned by Anton J. and Dora Frisch. The couple sold the business to Mrs. Georgia Hanson in March, 1914. Passing through many owners, from approximately 1917 – 1926, the Hotel was managed by Maude T. Hollomon. Hollomon was very active in community affairs as a leader in the Parent-Teacher Association and the Olympia Woman’s Club. She even served as unofficial head of the Olympia branch of the Woman’s Committee of the Thurston County Council of Defense in World War I. The hotel continued until 1965.
Reder’s Grocery might be considered an even more famous tenant of the White Building. The business was named for Joseph Reder (1873-1938). A son of German immigrants, he worked his way up from a delivery man to sole owner of a grocery store. Reder had several business partnerships before gaining control of the store himself. With his business partner William Lewis, the Reder & Lewis store moved to the White Building in September, 1908. At that time, it served as a feed store for animals as well as selling groceries. However, as cars grew to dominate horse-driven transportation, the feed section gradually vanished.
Reder was very active in community affairs. He served as president of the Chamber of Commerce and as the Thurston County Food Administrator during World War I. He was also heavily involved in many fraternal organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, Modern Woodmen of America, B. P. O. Elks, Fraternal Order of Eagles and Catholic Order of Foresters.
After Joseph Reder’s death in 1938, several of his children ran Reder’s Grocery. They moved operations from the White Building to their branch store at Tumwater Square (3409 Capital Boulevard) in the early 1950s and sold the business in 1965.
The White Building has undergone many changes in ownership and tenants over the years, and the city has changed around it. But the White Building, which rose from the ashes of the 1907 fire, reminds us of Olympia’s rich history and the important role that small local businesses have played in the community over the years.
“Joseph Reder Victim of Sickness.” Daily Olympian (Olympia, WA) November 8, 1938, 1.
“Pioneer Citizen and Lumberman [Allen White] Dies at Home.” Morning Olympian (Olympia, WA) September 26, 1925, 1.
United States Department of the Interior National Park Service, “National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: Olympia Downtown Historic District.” https://fortress.wa.gov/dahp/wisaard/documents/RN/0/3/3605.pdf
“White Building.” Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum. http://olympiahistory.org/wp/white-building/
Author’s note: My thanks to the Washington State Library for their assistance with research for this article.