Historic District Podcast

Every year the RenTeens take on a project of their choosing. In 2017, they created a walking tour of downtown Renton. This walking tour highlights the buildings which contribute to a potential downtown historic district that could be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Every building has a story, come learn about what makes downtown Renton so special.

Click the numbers to launch an audio tour of downtown Renton.


 

1. The Renton Library

Pioneer tea at the Library in 1966
Pioneer tea at the Library in 1966
100 Mill Avenue South 

The Renton Library is located over the Cedar River. In the 1960s, the construction of the civic center began with the library. The plan for the library over the river was devised to make the best use of the available space and to give the Civic Center a “striking and novel appearance”. The library formally opened with great fanfare on April 17, 1966. 50 years later the library was renovated with new cross bracing and aluminum siding. The industrial improvement reflects Renton’s long history of manufacturing and engineering.
Image of Renton Library over the River
 Color postcard of the Renton Library from 1966

2. Renton Theater

507 South 3rd St.
Renton Civic Theater
Theater lobby in 1950
The Renton Theater was opened by the Fey family, who moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Seattle in 1919. In 1924 they came to Renton
Renton Civic Theater
Renton Civic Theater 1963
 and began work on a new theater, which was finished in February 1925. Ben Fey and his son Erwin Fey ran this theater from 1925 until Ben's death in 1938. Erwin inherited the family business and continued to expand their theater empire, opening the Renton Theater in 1940. Both the Roxy and the Renton were  extremely successful throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Renton’s population was also rising during this time, as World War II created many new jobs at industries like Boeing. The prosperity of Renton at the time meant business was booming at the Renton Theater.

The neon sign on the Renton Theater’s marquee is the most iconic part of the building, and it can be seen in many photographs of the neon that dominated downtown Renton for most of the twentieth century. 

As you can see, the original neon sign and marquee of the theater remain, as well as the art-deco style lobby. Both of which are over seventy years old!

3. Roxy Theater

504 South 3rd St.
Roxy Theater at night
Roxy Theater in 1969


The Roxy Theater is an even older part of the Fey family of theaters. It was opened in 1936 and enjoyed success just like the Renton Theater throughout the 1940s and 1950s. The Roxy’s neon sign was an iconic feature of Renton’s downtown, though it posed some problems during World War II. The people of Renton feared the possibility of Boeing being bombed, prompting the city government to instate a citywide blackout at night. One night Fey’s mother had accidentally lit up the marquee during a blackout, receiving an angry phone call from her son, who could see the light from miles away!

Roxy Theater
 Roxy Theater in the 1970s
Fey sold the Roxy Theater along with the Renton in 1978 to the McRae family who continued to play children’s movies there. In 1998 the theater was purchased by Arif Azhar, who began to screen Bollywood movies. The tech boom of the 1990s had created many new jobs that attracted immigrants from India, and the Roxy found success by catering to the growing Indian population in Renton. When Azhar sold the building in 2001 the neon sign was donated to the Renton Historical Society. The sign depicts a red and green fan, with the words “Fey’s Roxy” down the side, and it is now displayed in the Renton History Museum.

4. JC Penney

700 S. 3rd St., Renton
JC Penney Store
JC Penney in 1962


The first JC Penney department store in Renton opened in 1928 at 715 S 3rd St. It stayed in that location until a brand new JC Penney building opened at 700 S. 3rd St. in September 22, 1955. It opened a year after F. W. Woolworth’s store opened next door. Inside the JC Penney store were three floors, each of them broken down to departments. The top floor was used for business offices, stock rooms, alterations, pressing departments, a lay-away department, and a toy shop for children. After the 1950s, department stores like JC Penney and Woolworth’s moved toward self-service, in which customers had access to all goods on shelves and could freely consider the range of goods without help from a salesperson.

JC Penney
JC Penney in 1971
Southcenter Mall opened in 1974, giving rise to stiff competition for downtown Renton stores like JC Penney. JC Penney remained in business until its closure in 1987. Early department stores kept goods in cases and sales people usually women, assisted customers with their purchases. Department stores became a good source of employment for young women. The JC Penney building’s contribution to the historic district was that it transformed rural and suburban America by offering so many customer choices in one convenient location.

5. Woolworth

710 S 3rd St., Renton
Woolworth building
 Woolworth c. 1950


The F. W. Woolworth Building in Renton was constructed in the Fall of 1953 after the demolition of the Priebe Building. The Woolworth store opened on March 18, 1954. Upon the grand opening of the Woolworth store, its assortment of merchandise consisted of infant wear, needle work, jewelry, horticultural items, pet supplies, lamps, shades, greeting cards, records, toys, and books. When the Woolworth store opened, the first floor consisted entirely of a sales space while the second floor had an office, receiving room, an employee’s lounge, and stock room. With minimal sales ladies’ assistance of shoppers, the Woolworth store was the first self-serviced store opened in the Northwest.

Woolworth building
Woolworth c. 1960
After the Woolworth store closed, the Renton Western Wear took over the building until its closure in 2013. Luckily after the closure of Renton Western Wear, the building was sold to new owners Dave and Monica Brethauer who restored and improved the building’s exterior with the help of the Community Development Block Grant Facade Improvement Program. The F. W. Woolworth Building’s historical significance involves the relationship between the growth and development of Downtown Renton and the Woolworth Company’s effort to shift rural America to a more urbanized area with shopping centers.

6. Nannie Evans Building

1911-1915 South 3rd St.
Nannie Evans Building
Nannie Evans Building in 1938


Harold Evans was a very prominent business figure in the city of Renton and greatly boosted the local economy. Mr. Evans was born in 1850 in Wolverhampton, England, and moved to the Seattle area in the late 1870’s as a mine worker. After a gun accident, he settled in Renton with his wife Nancy (Nannie) McCombs Evans and four kids. He was very productive and a very busy man, being the director of the Citizens Bank of Renton and serving as a councilman for the city of Renton and on the school board as well.

Nannie Evans building
Nannie Evans building in 1963
He built several buildings in Downtown Renton. The Nannie Evans building was built in 1938. It contains storefronts 911 to 915 South 3rd Street in downtown Renton. It is a significant building because has housed local business for 80 years, and had a major presence in the formation of downtown Renton.

7. Renton History Museum

235 Mill Avenue South
Fire Station No. 1
Fire Station No. 1 in 1946


The Renton History Museum was completed in 1942 to serve as Renton Fire Station No.1. It is considered significant because of the Art Deco architecture and for being the first fire house in Renton. The building was constructed as part of the Works Project Administration (WPA). Ivan M. Palmaw designed the structure. He was a Russian immigrant and the nephew of the last imperial architect in Russia. His close association with Russian Royalty forced him to leave the country. He joined with other exiles in the Black Sea and later in Shanghai, China. In 1923, he decided he wanted to study architecture. Refused a visa to France, he went to the US instead for his education. In 1929, he graduated from the University of Washington, School of Architecture. He designed many other buildings in the Seattle area.

Musuem
Fire Station No. 1 celebrating Christmas in 1948
Eventually, in 1978, the fire department had outgrown this facility and needed to move to larger and more modern building. The same year the building was placed on the Washington State Register of Historical Buildings. This gave the city and the Renton Historical Society the opportunity to preserve the building and turn it into something everyone can enjoy, a museum.

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