It turns out that walls DO talk, after all! In an effort spearheaded by Kent Landmarks Commissioner Nancy Simpson and supported by the Greater Kent Historical Society and the Kent Downtown Partnership, with technical assistance supplied by Industry Sign & Graphics (a local business), Kent now boasts 13 interpretive plaques affixed to some of the vintage buildings in the downtown core. Kent, the second oldest city in King County, has plenty of stories to tell. Here’s a compilation of the stories behind the buildings, many of which are still standing today.
Kent Lutheran Church – On August 4, 1889 a Lutheran congregation was formed in Kent under the name of “Den Skandinaviske Evangeliske Luterske Manighet.” In1890, construction on the church building began. The Norwegian language was used until 1926. In 1938, the church site was needed to expand the elementary school, so the building was moved to Fifth Avenue and Gowe Street.
The present site was then purchased and a new church was built. It was dedicated September 10, 1939, fifty years after the organization of the congregation. Ground adjoining the church was purchased for a parsonage which was completed in 1942. The present education building, known as the white building and originally included the sanctuary, was completed in 1949. Ground breaking for the present sanctuary was on Sunday, April 13, 1969, with the first service held on February 15, 1970. The sanctuary of the 1939 structure that once extended the white building to where the kitchen and library now stand was demolished to make way for the new structure.
Berlin Brothers General Merchandise – In 1890, the Berlin Brothers (Andrew N., Jarvis B., and Treve) opened their first general merchandise store at 100 Railroad Avenue South in Kent. In 1900 they opened two more stores in Auburn and Sumner. At that time, they were the largest mercantile operation in the Valley. The Kent store, which was expanded in 1912, was managed by Jarvis B. Berlin.
In 1915 Andrew N. bought out his brothers and changed the name of the store to A.N. Berlin. During 1925 and 1926, A.N. Berlin was the Mayor of Kent. In later years the building was the site of the J.C. Penney Store and Dragness Office Supply.
Bank of Kent – The Bank of Kent was built at the southwest corner of Meeker Street and First Avenue South in 1891. It was capitalized with $25,000 by the first president, Thomas Devine. The Bank of Kent went out of business due to lack of funds in 1896. It was known as M.M. Morrill First National Bank of Kent from 1896-1906.
The building was then sold to W.H. Overlock in 1906. Overlock served as the mayor of Kent twice, from 1895-1896 and again from 1908-1909. Many banks called this building home thereafter: State Bank, National Bank of Kent, National Bank of Washington, Pacific National Bank of Washington, First Interstate, and Wells Fargo.
First National Bank – Merton M. Morrill was born in New York in 1855. He came west in 1887 and invested in real estate in Kent. He owned a general store and was a dealer in meat goods. In 1897 he closed the market and went to Alaska to mine the gold fields. He supplied cattle to the miners.
When he returned to Kent, Morrill invested his earnings in the banking business, building a new home for The Morrill Bank on the southwest corner of First Avenue South and Gowe Street. It opened March 11, 1901 and eleven years later reorganized under the name First National Bank of Kent. Morrill served as president until his death in 1913. Morrill also served as the Mayor of Kent in 1909-1910.
After Morrill passed away, his widow, Annie Merrifield Morrill, served as bank president until 1923. Her stock was sold to her stepson M.W. Morrill.
Carnation Milk Company – At the dawn of the 20th century, another major business was growing in downtown Kent. Elbridge A. Stuart and Herbert R. Yerxa incorporated their business as the Pacific Coast Condensed Milk Company. Yerxa soon moved on, but Stuart made over a two-story brick hotel into a cream-condensing plant, which stretched along Meeker Street between First and Second Avenues South.
The first can of condensed milk rolled out on September 6, 1899. Production in the early years amounted to 3,000 cans per day. Carnation provided many jobs for the local citizens and also helped the dairy farmers in the area. The business was expanded to include a tin can manufacturing facility which turned out 50,000 cans per day.
After labor troubles, Carnation closed its Kent plant in 1916 and moved its operation to Tolt, WA (now Carnation, WA). By the time Carnation was bought out by Nestle in 1984, it was a world enterprise with annual sales of $3 billion.
Naden Building – E.H. Naden had the Naden Building constructed on First Avenue South near Gowe Street in 1906. Occupants were Naden’s own grocery and school supply store. The building also housed the Journal newspaper and printing office and Jack Simpson’s barber shop.
Later on, a second story was added for apartments. Many different businesses have occupied this space over the years.
Kent Bakery – At about the same time, the Vienna Bakery opened in 1906 at 231 First Avenue South. It was owned by Adolph Niebling, who later sold the business to Gene Falleri. Falleri changed the name to Kent Bakery, and the place was sold again in 1919 to Max Bauer.
Years later, Kent Bakery was operated by Max Bauer’s son and daughter-in-law, James and Dorothy Bauer. This photo is dated from 1920.
Guiberson Building – In 1906, the Guiberson Building was built at the northwest corner of 1st Avenue South and Titus Street by Charles E. Guiberson at a cost of $12,000. Mr. Guiberson followed the gold rush to the Yukon and upon returning, invested his earnings in Kent real estate. This was the first brick building in Kent.
The first floor was occupied by Baumgard Ladies & Gents Furnishings, C.W. Preppernau Drug Store, C.Y. Lundquist Grocery Store and the Dream Theater. The second floor housed Hudson-Woods Umbrella Factory, doctors’ offices and apartments. The longest term tenant was Look’s Department Store. It operated in the Guiberson Building from 1907 until closing in 1953.
Kent Theater – The Kent Theater, near Second Avenue on Meeker Street, was built in 1910 and continued to the 1940s. Owned and operated by A.S. “Pete” Leeper, the theater had a loud and lively piano accompaniment to the films. Mr Leeper also owned the Dream Theater located on First Avenue in the Guiberson Building. Silent films and live performances kept the audiences coming back.
The Kent Theater burned down in the 1920s and was quickly rebuilt. Those early days had program changes weekly. Admission in 1915 was 10 cents for adults and 5 cents for children.
The only other theaters in Kent were the Hazel Theater (Railroad Avenue, 2nd floor, Howley Building) and the Vale Theater (northwest corner of Fourth and Meeker Streets).
Clark Livery Stables – From about 1910, Clark Livery Stables occupied the northeast corner of Second Avenue and Gowe Street. The livery bought and sold horses, and had buggy and saddle horses ready at all times.
In 1931, a wood-framed building was built. Occupants since then have included Midway Motors (1937-1944), McIvers Riteway Super Market (late 1940s to 1960s), Washington Mutual Bank, Stewarts Jewelers, Frontier Bank, Union Bank and Qwest. Now it is owned by Domestic Abuse Women’s Network.
Harmon Rice Building – Harmon Rice built this two-story structure in 1914 to house the family store. Rice and Coble sold groceries, shoes and “gents’ furnishings.” Rice and his wife, Grace, who also worked at the store as a clerk, lived right upstairs.
Also located on the ground floor was the office of attorney Henry Madison.
Rader Building – In 1922, the Rader Building was erected at 211 Central Avenue North by Lewis and Ward Rader, builders and owners of Rader Brothers Manufacturers & Bottlers. They specialized in soda and mineral water. Rader Root Beer was their specialty,
After bottling plant days, the building became the location of Pay ‘n Takit (circa 1932) and Safeway Market. The current business to call this address home is Neiman Glass.
In 1935, prominent Kent contractor Walter Bouldron built this impressive Art-Deco design building at 214 West Meeker Street in downtown Kent. The construction of this building was considered “a district asset that will have a large part in promoting the general economic welfare of the city.”
The architect, “Sid” (A.S.) Leeper was a recent graduate from Washington State College in Pullman. This was the first building he designed. He later became an engineer for King County. His father, Pete Leeper, was a Kent City Engineer and architect who designed the Kent City Hall in 1922.
Many businesses have called this building home; J.C. Penney, Murray’s Fine Fabrics, Treasurers Antiques, Lucile’s Children’s Shop, hair salons, barber shops, Stewarts Jewelers, attorney’s offices, Cady’s Pharmacy, and The Club Tavern. The second floor has apartments.
The Bouldron Building is architecturally important as the only example of Art Deco architecture in downtown Kent. It is historically important as a sign of recovery from the 1929 Depression.
Now that you know a little more about the history of these buildings, take a stroll around downtown Kent to get a sense of the context. These historical plaques are doing their part to restore vitality and interest to Kent’s downtown core.