The construction boom of the 1920s brought the Montgomery Ward building in downtown Olympia to life. Nearly 100 years later, that same building is getting a fresh face as the area experiences the same type of construction boom. And in another 100 years, the stories historians will write about downtown Olympia will be heavily-laden with the name Walker John: The developer who worked to revitalize downtown Olympia, nearly block-by-block. His latest project, at 317 4th Avenue East is no exception.
Just days away from total completion, Walker has been thoughtfully repurposing the historic, four-story Ward building while keeping the commercial vernacular design, and even the tile mosaic of the facade intact. The space is now dubbed “Annie’s Studios,” an homage to Walker’s mother, Anne John, a prolific painter, and applications are being accepted for the leasing of 18 studio apartments and 11 work/office space studios for businesses and artists alike.
Erected in 1928, the building was the home of national department store and catalogue retailer Montgomery Ward, one of the first chain stores in Olympia. When Aaron Montgomery Ward founded the business, the dry-goods mail-order concept was the first of its kind.
By 1883, the company’s catalogue, known as the “Wish Book” had grown to 240 pages and 10,000 items. It wasn’t until 1896 that Ward encountered his first real competition, the Sears catalogue, and by the middle of the following century, both of these catalogue retailers held real-estate in downtown Olympia. (In the interest of local trivia, Walker and his company Urban Management Co. LLC have now renovated both the Sears and Montgomery Ward retailer heritage sites).
The building went on to be the home of the Olympia Vocational Technical Institute (OVCI) that was founded in the fall of 1962 by the Olympia School District. OVCI later became South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC). In recent years, occupancy at 317 4th Avenue has waxed and waned through various different restaurants, arts, and entertainment occupants, but never really achieving its full potential. And that’s when this story stops. To make way for the next one…
When you first step into Annie’s Studios, you get a breathtaking view of a building that has had new life breathed into it. The occupancy concept is a unique one for downtown Olympia, mixing spaces for living and working. The foyer immediately opens into a gallery space that Broker Teri Haglund says will give commercial tenants the opportunity to use as a space for exhibitions, office parties, or even a community event or craft center.
When asked about the details of the gallery design Teri continues that they aren’t set in stone, and that’s part of the beauty of early tenancy in the new space. The usage will be artist or business driven, and at this point, the gallery is every artist’s dream: a blank canvas.
The building has an expansive, light and airy feel, and natural light floats in from above. The building’s center has been opened up to expose a multi-story staircase (there’s an elevator, too) and the artistic and caring craftsmanship of yesteryear is still prevalent in the work being done today. The stair treads are made of reclaimed wood from within the building complimented by a purple heart wood trim. There are four stories of brand-new construction and all of them are truly something special.
Teri says that the renovation team has worked so hard on this building over the past couple of years, she imagines that they may have a hard time saying goodbye to it. Now that it’s time for the new tenants to say “Hello,” the team will head to yet another Walker John project in our beautiful city. There have been seven of them now.
The 11 work studios in the building range from 150 square feet up to 365 square feet. “We have already received applications from a massage and body movement person, and a local fly-fishing supply business,” Teri reports, “so art mediums will be very broad here.”
The work studios have access to the laundry facility, shared bathrooms, wet rooms with sinks and even an event kitchen, in addition to the gallery areas.
The residential studio apartments range in size from 400 square feet up to 570 square feet, and though each unit is unique, they all have high ceilings and exposed timbers throughout. Along with the plumbing and ductwork, this design style makes for an ultra-urban feel. Each of them has a full kitchen and bathroom. Options range from eat-in counter tops to galley-style kitchens and all units are designed with the large, open concept floor plan.
Walker’s company and its approach to design is a thoughtful one. When he invests in urban landscapes he does so with community in mind. Teri says he approaches development by revitalizing entire blocks because he appreciates the European lifestyle of urban, walkable communities.
Walker is a third-generation developer, his family making their mark on the Vancouver, Washington waterfront and the mall in Salem, Oregon. Now Walker has turned his focus on revitalizing downtown Olympia. There’s a good reason why the Olympia Downtown Alliance voted him their 2019 Person of the Year as he works hard to blend community, culture and convenience in all he touches.
Walker is not afraid to take a leap either, as Annie’s Studios are the first of their kind in our area where work and life share balance within a building. As the son of an artist, Walker appreciates art and what it takes to create it, and so he’s fostered a space where that can happen in the Montgomery Ward building for at least another 100 years.
For more information on leasing options, visit Urban Management Co LLC’s website, Urban Olympia, or contact Teri Haglund at 360.742.4877