The large throng of onlookers had gathered at the corner of Broadway and Heron street, anticipating the opening of Aberdeen’s newest building on the evening of Feb. 1, 1913.
Their eagerness was rewarded at 8 p.m. when Aberdeen Mayor James W. Parks pushed a button and the streets were bathed in light for 200 feet in each direction from the Electric Building’s 1,066 light bulbs, the new home of the Grays Harbor Railway & Light Co. for the next 20 years and one of the most unique buildings on the Pacific coast.
The crowd was treated to an unexpected delight when, according to the Aberdeen Daily World, “a few minutes later immense shafts of red flame shot from the corners and cast a glare for blocks in every direction.” Over the next three hours, more than 3,000 people made their way through the building to the harmony of an orchestra hired for the occasion. They wandered through the east-most entrance into the plush waiting room fitted with leather-cushioned seats for waiting streetcar passengers or weary shoppers. There was also a “darkroom,” where the G.H.Ry.& L. Co. exhibited electric signage in the hopes that businesses would become customers of the power company. In addition to the electric company, the building’s original ground floor tenants included Eiler’s Music store, Bathurst Millinery and the Harlan Book Co.
The second floor was accessible via an entrance on Broadway, wainscoted with veined marble and heated with a gold-bronzed radiator. In addition to the Grays Harbor Railway & Light Co. offices and drafting rooms, the second floor was lined with offices on the Broadway side, most of which were occupied by doctors. There were also the opulent offices of C.E. Troutman, the architect who had designed the building. The Quinault Club, formed by some of the “leading young men” in the city, also occupied the second floor, although some of the clubs furnishings failed to arrive in time due to snow in the mountains.
Construction of the Electric Building had begun in June of 1912 by the Advance Construction company of Portland. The wiring and plumbing was contracted to local companies. Work proceeded quickly that summer with only one major injury when a worker from Tacoma named J. Matthewson tripped and fell through a skylight while turning a wheelbarrow on the roof, suffering severe injuries to his face and head. The structure is built of locally purchased materials with a final cost of $60,000. The over-built foundation was designed to support a 5-story building and there was a plan at one point of adding a third floor for use by the city Chamber of Commerce.
Through the years, the Electric Building has been the home to many fine businesses. In 1915, J.S. Waugh converted the four storefronts on the first floor into one large store space and the corner became known as “The Big White Store.” Waugh’s moved out in 1928 and the First National Bank moved in. Other long-time tenants included Stieglitz Jewelers, Block’s Shoe Store, Hughes Ladies Apparel and the Broadway Pharmacy. Today, most residents of the Harbor probably know it best as the home of Walt Failor’s Sporting Goods, which moved from the Becker Building in 1964. For the next 25 years Failor’s was the place to purchase fishing, hunting and sports gear.
Since the closing of Failor’s, the building has lost much of its original grandeur. Recently the Electric Building was purchased by Kevin Moore and is now the home of Tek-Eaze, a computer business. The building was recently placed on the city’s historic register and work is underway to get it listed on the historic register at the state level. Moore’s intention to restore the structure to its former grandeur is a big job requiring time and money, but imagine what it would be to see the building once again lit up as a great beacon in the darkness.
The Electric Building is one of Grays Harbor’s most unique buildings and it is encouraging that there is growing appreciation for our historical past. With the revival of the D&R Theatre and the Pearson’s building, a relit Electric Building would be a bright light in the effort to revitalize downtown Aberdeen. A fitting role to a beautiful building that was opened 100 years ago today.
Roy Vataja is born and raised in Aberdeen, the son of Finnish immigrants, and has been researching Aberdeen history for 30 years. He’s been involved with the Aberdeen Museum of History since its beginning.