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There have been many businesses in the history of Olympia. One outstanding area of business activity has been the Wildwood Shopping Center, now known simply as the Wildwood Building, located at the southern edge of Olympia on Capitol Boulevard. Built at the end of the Great Depression, the Wildwood Building marked the explosive growth of the city to the south as suburbia expanded.

Wildwood Park Develops

In the early 1920s, realtor John T. Otis had a rustic cabin summer home he called “Wildwood Park.” He began selling off tracts of land to people to build homes through his firm Otis and Brown. In 1922, Otis changed the neighborhood’s name from “Olympia Highlands” to “Wildwood Park.” The new district developed rapidly.

Wildwood Shopping Center

In the mid-1920s Gilbert Valley opened the Wildwood Cash Grocery near O’Farrell Avenue on Capitol Boulevard. While the store weathered the Great Depression, the building was in trouble. In 1937, Valley complained to the Daily Olympian that the Union Pacific’s 900-foot railroad tunnel under the building was causing the foundation to go off kilter.

Perhaps this was the reason Valley commissioned prolific local architect Joseph Wohleb to design a new store in 1938. Sometimes known as the G. C. Valley Shopping Center, it was better known as the Wildwood Center. There is room for four businesses (2822, 2824, 2926 and 2928 Capitol Boulevard), but some stores have operated out of multiple sections.

Built in the Art Moderne style, the building is sleek and streamlined like the cars of the era. As one of the earliest shopping centers in Olympia, Wildwood was promoted as a one-stop place where customers could shop at their leisure and avoid the congestion of downtown Olympia.

A Community Landmark

Wildwood Center and a now-demolished gas station  in 1950
This image of Wildwood Center and a now-demolished gas station (right) comes from the 1950 Olympia Centennial Souvenir Program. The Richfield gas station and auto-repair shop opened in 1938. Photo credit: Drew Crooks

Valley left his grocery store to become a life insurance agent in 1939, but the shopping center he founded was just beginning.

Among its earliest businesses was the Wildwood Grocery and Wildwood Pharmacy. Besides filling prescriptions, the drugstore sold candy, gift wrap and cards. In 1954, it became Kimbel’s Wildwood Pharmacy. LeMay’s Meat Market operated in the late 1940s and 1950s.

The center was also home to Wells Flower Shop. In 1943 it was sold to Connie Schmidt, who renamed it the Wildwood Flower and Gift Shop. In addition, Schmidt operated Pen ‘n Pencil, a stationary store. This store also rented popular books and repaired mechanical pens and pencils.

Changing Times at Wildwood

During the mid-20th century, more specialty businesses moved into the Wildwood Building. This included the Sa-Vee Arts and Gift shop. Opened in 1964, sisters Sally Wright and Virginia Mugartegui sold imported arts and crafts as well as work by local artists. This included woodwork by their father carver Howard Bench.

Another local artist, painter Eula Benefield, opened Euben Studio in 1966. She sold her own pieces as well as other artists’ work. In addition, she sold frames and art supplies and taught painting classes to children and adults. The Tumwater Allied Arts met regularly in her studio. The Gesler-McNiven Domani Gallery sold furniture in the building in the late 1970s.

Dining at Wildwood

Wildwood Park neighborhood
Wildwood Park neighborhood was started in the 1920s. Otis and Brown promoted it as “a popular district for those who are fond of fruit and flowers” in the June 2, 1926 issue of the Morning Olympian. Photo credit: Jennifer Crooks

During the early 1940s, customers drove up to the curb for milkshakes, malts and ice cream sodas from Andy’s Cut Rate (or Herre’s Cut Rate).

In 1954, Kimbell’s 24 Flavors (or Kimbell’s Ice Cream) opened, selling homemade ice cream by the cone or gallon. It was run by Jean Kimbell and Dene Osterberg.

For a sit-down meal, Vince’s Cafe (or Restaurant) operated in the early 1960s. Promising “Cadillac food at compact prices,” they served breakfast and lunch. Customers could pick a steak from the display case made to order served alongside soup or salad, baked or mashed potatoes, roll, cinnamon roll, coffee or tea and dessert such as homemade pies. Run by Herb and Gladys Vinson, they offered a signature “Vince Burger,” barbecued beef on a French bun with salad.

Meeting Changing Community Needs

The businesses at the Wildwood Center evolved with the times. In 1946 Bale Electric Co. moved from downtown, selling radios, electric appliances, range elements, and refrigerators. Operated by Ralph Bale, Clifford La Rock and Ralph Sullivan, the store also serviced appliances and radios.

Jiffy Cleaners offered dry cleaning and drapery services as well as alterations in the late 1960s. Tumwater Cleaners also operated in the building around that time.

From mid-1980s to 1994, Sight and Sound, rented VHS and Beta tapes and machines as well as selling VCRs, pop/rock cassettes and movie collectibles. All movie rentals cost 99 cents on Wednesdays.

 Wildwood Building in Olympia
The Wildwood Building remains a thriving neighborhood shopping center today. Photo credit: Jennifer Crooks

A grocery store returned to Wildwood when Mohamed Hassan operated Mohamed Ali’s Quick Stop in the early 1980s. This was replaced by the Corner Grocery. In 1991 Jack and M. Irene Houston bought the store from Ruben and Mary Ponton. In 1993 the grocery closed and was bought by Michaleen Richardson and Terry Smith.

They transformed the spot into Desserts by Tasha Nicole, specializing in high-end desserts.  Named for Richardson’s daughters, the shop was famous for chocolate dipped cheesecake slices on a stick. Serving breakfast and lunch, including brioche sandwiches, Tasha Nicole offered conference space in the “Hunter Room” next door. The store closed in 2013.

Wildwood Building Today

Lauded by the Olympian in 2014 as the “poster child for neighborhood centers,” the Wildwood Building is now home to Vic’s Pizzeria, Olympia Coffee Roasting Co., The Lucky Lunchbox sandwich shop, and Spud’s Produce Market. Indeed, this business area remains what Gilbert Valley dreamed of, a community market.

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