The development of Wedgwood’s first business district began with J.W. (Joe) Shauer, an enterprising businessman who moved his family from Greenwood to Wedgwood in 1920. Mr. Shauer (pronounced shower) paid $1,000 for an acre of property on the west side of 35th Ave NE between NE 85th to 86th Streets. On the corner of NE 86th Street, the site now occupied by Wells Fargo Bank, the Shauers built a one-room house with a screened porch on one side. The house was truly “out in the country,” as it was without running water or electricity; electricity wasn’t brought that far out on 35th Ave NE until 1923.
In the 1920s Mr. Shauer’s interest in cars led him to open a tire shop at 55th & Roosevelt in north Seattle. In the prosperous economy of the 1920s when many Seattle residents acquired cars, Mr. Shauer’s tire shop was very successful. The Shauers soon had enough money to hire a carpenter to enlarge and improve their house on the corner of NE 86th Street in Wedgwood, including wiring for electricity which had become available. In 1927 Mr. Shauer expanded his business interests by opening Wedgwood’s first gas station and garage next to his house. He repaired cars and sold Violet Ray gasoline, Quaker State motor oil and Federal tires.
Mr. Shauer expands his business enterprises
Mr. Shauer’s next business enterprise was to build a small grocery store at the corner of NE 85th Street, adjoining the gas station and garage along 35th Ave NE. The grocery store met a great need because there were few stores in the area. Local housewives needed a store within walking distance where they could get basic supplies. Rather than run the store themselves, the Shauers leased out the grocery, having also built a small house behind the store where the tenants could live.
Economic downturn impacts the business
The good times of the 1920s came to a screeching halt with the stock market crash of October 31, 1929. Fear over economic conditions caused people to stop spending money, which in turn caused industries to lay off workers because of the business downturn. Large numbers of unemployed people made the economy even worse, and by 1931 things were at a standstill. The lessees of the Shauer’s grocery store in Wedgwood couldn’t make a go of it because business had dropped.
The Shauers began running the store themselves. Many of their customers were “on the books,” buying groceries on credit, and some never came back to pay their bill. People gave up their cars because of the economic conditions of the Great Depression, and they went “back to basics” by planting gardens and keeping chickens. Mr. Shauer’s gas station remained open but the garage was converted to a feed-and-seed store, selling chicken feed and live chicks raised by Mrs. Shauer.
In 1933 the ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages, called Prohibition, was repealed and Mr. Shauer converted his garage/feed store into a café and beer parlor, decked out with tables covered with blue-and-white checked cloths. Although the repeal of Prohibition had to be ratified state-by-state before hard liquor could be sold, as of April 1933 Congress permitted sales of a watery three-two beer, so called because it contained only 3.2 percent alcohol. Mr. Shauer didn’t want to run the beer parlor himself, so he leased out this business to a German immigrant, Charlie Hofsvang.
Changes in the neighborhood
Meanwhile, the Shauers were growing weary of the fifteen-hour work days at their grocery store. Mr. Shauer was also alarmed about the plan to build a new campus for Seattle University on a neighboring tract of land, Mr. Thorpe’s ginseng farm, which had been sold to the Jesuits in early October 1929. Mr. Shauer believed his businesses were dependent upon customers drawn from a residential neighborhood, and that being located next to a Catholic seminary would not be a successful business environment. The Shauers decided to sell it all — their house, land and businesses — and look for opportunities elsewhere. They could not have foreseen that the proposed Catholic university campus would never be built. Instead, Albert Balch bought the Jesuit’s land in 1940 and developed it into the original Wedgwood housing tract, bounded by 30th to 35th Avenues NE and NE 80th to 85th Streets.
A later owner of Mr. Shauer’s property, Henry R. Hansen, built the commercial building that exists today at 8507 35th Ave NE and includes All That Dance and the Wedgwood Ale House. One of Mr. Hansen’s first tenants was McVicar Hardware, which operated from 1946 to 1986 in the space now occupied by All That Dance. The old Hansen’s Tavern was torn down and a new Wedgwood Tavern, the present-day Wedgwood Ale House at 8515 35th Ave NE, was enclosed in the north end of the new business building.
According to listings in the telephone book, Hansen’s Tavern was likely the first business to change its name to “Wedgwood” in about 1945, as the neighborhood businesses gradually took on the Wedgwood identity.
In 1955 Mr. Shauer’s house at the corner of NE 86th Street was replaced by Bud Gagnon’s Wedgewood Pharmacy. It in turn was torn down in 1972 and the brick bank building built in its place. The first bank in that building was University Federal Savings, 1972 to 1992.
Interview with Ruth Shauer Jameson in 1993.
Telephone book and city directory listings: the downtown Seattle Public Library has phone books and other kinds of city directories going back a century or more. Businesses can often be traced in this way with the approximate dates of opening, closing and name changes.