Above/featured: Exhibition “Edible City: A Delicious Journey” at MOHAI – Seattle, 8 Jan 2017 (6D1).
What: 1st Starbucks, at Virginia/Western in the Rhode Island building.
Where: A restaurant now; no historical plaque or sign, though.
Why: 1st location between 1971 to 1976, as an historical exercise.
Many write about and refer to the “original Starbucks” location in downtown Seattle. If they’re referring to the present location in Pike Place, that Starbucks outlet while oldest is not the original.
So, what happened to Starbucks’ very first location from 1971 to 1976?
1st Starbucks at Virginia and Western
From 1971 to 1976, the first Starbucks was located at address 2000 Western Avenue within the Rhode Island building at the northeast corner of Virginia Street and Western Avenue. A 1937 photo from the city archives shows the building was once home to Hotel Conklin, Tsue and Company Produce, and the Market Tavern. By 1971, the produce market at the building’s corner was replaced with a coffee store, accompanied soon by the brown logo fixed high against the building and a street placard on the pavement. The building was demolished in late-1976 to early-1977, and Starbucks moved about 90 metres (290 feet) southeast to its present location in the Soames-Dunn building at address 1912 Pike Place.
By comparing my recent digital photographs with digitized images from the Seattle Municipal Archives (SMA), I’ll show Starbucks’ very first location was attached to the now-demolished Rhode Island building. Today (early-2020), the northeast corner of Virginia Street and Western Avenue is occupied by Tom Douglas’ Seatown Market Diner, across the street from Victor Steinbrueck Park.
Locations A through F indicate viewing perspectives of the area.
- Western/Virginia, SE corner (facing northwest)
- Western/Virginia, SW corner (facing northeast)
- Western Ave to Pike Place/Virginia (facing southeast)
- Virginia St to Western Ave (facing southwest)
- Pike Place to Western/Virginia (facing northwest)
- Soames-Dunn building (facing northeast)
- 1st street sign, 1971
A. Western/Virginia, SE corner (facing northwest)
Behind the stop sign at the centre of the image above is a red building with Seatown Market Diner at street level with a “neon crab” in the window. That was the former location of the Rhode Island building which was home to the city’s first Starbucks. At right is the covered shelter at the north end of Pike Place Market’s North Arcade area for market stalls.
B. Western/Virginia, SW corner (facing northeast)
C. Western Ave to Pike Place/Virginia (facing southeast)
The covered shelter at the north end of North Arcade appears at centre. The former Mobil gas- and service-station has been replaced by Victor Steinbrueck Park.
D. Virginia St to Western Ave (facing southwest)
This image faces west from the top of the former Armory Park Parking structure over Virginia Street and Western Avenue. The Mobil gas- and service-station at centre would be replaced by the green space Market Park in 1982, which was subsequently renamed Victor Steinbrueck Park in 1985.
E. Pike Place to Western/Virginia (facing northwest)
F. Soames-Dunn building (facing northeast)
G. 1st street sign, 1971
An original Starbucks curb-side placard is on display at Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) as part of their permanent collection. The accompanying caption reads:
In 1971, this simple hand-painted sign stood outside the first Starbucks at 2000 Western Avenue. Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker – two teachers and a writer – had named their little coffee store “Starbucks” after a character in the book “Moby Dick”. Their roasted coffee beans warmed Seattleites’ hearts, and the rest is history. Bowker said: “We came desperately close to calling it (the store) ‘Cargo House’, which would have been a terrible mistake.”
Notes & More
There’s an existing remnant of a covered shelter at the very end of the market’s north arcade where there might have been a former streetcar stop at the intersection of Pike Place, Western Avenue, and Virginia Street (coordinates: +47.610259, -122.343436). Seattle Municipal Street Railway maps from the early 1930s show there was double-track streetcar service running northwest to southeast along Western Avenue and a couple of routes onto Virginia Street: 1931 network, 1933 map from SDOT Photos, and another 1933 map via SPL/Lee Roberts.
As of writing, Seattle’s oldest continuously operating coffee house resides in the U-District next to the campus of the University of Washington. Though it was not the very first coffee bar in the city, Cafe Allegro lays claim to Seattle’s “original espresso bar” since 1975, and its operation has been credited as the prototype for Starbucks stores.
I acknowledge my time on the traditional and ancestral land of the first people of Seattle, the Duwamish (Dxʷdəwʔabš) People past and present, and honour with gratitude the land itself and the Duwamish Tribe. Images labelled “SMA” are courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives. I made all remaining photos with a Fujifilm X70 fixed-lens prime (X70) on 3 March 2020, and with a Canon EOS6D mark1 (6D1) on 8 Jan 2017 and 8 Dec 2017. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins DOT com as https://wp.me/p1BIdT-gWN.