The Red Door restaurant was in the Fremont Drug Company building which was moved to its present site, 3401 Evanston Avenue, in the year 2001. This original Fremont Drug Company building was built in 1895 at 3401 Fremont Avenue.
Founded in 1988, the Red Door restaurant closed on March 8, 2020. The costs of doing business, rent, etc., proved to be too much. The building is owned by Suzie Burke, a major landholder in Fremont.
This is the third blog post in the series about the Fremont Drug Company and its building, which I will continue to refer to as the Red Door, for the purposes of this article which was written before the restaurant closed.
The story of the Red Door building illustrates the historic heritage of the Fremont business district and the ups and downs of its economy through the impacts of events such as the construction of the ship canal, the construction of the Aurora Bridge, and the economic depression of the 1930s. As of this update in March 2020 the coronavirus epidemic has set off another economic recession in which more restaurants may close.
Fremont businesses and the ship canal
In 1911 the owners of the Fremont Drug Company at 3401 Fremont Avenue made the decision to move out of that building. They moved their business a few doors northward on the block, to 3423 which was almost to the corner of North 35th Street in the Fremont Building, also called the Fremont Hotel Building.
I have not found any news articles or other sources which gave the exact reasons why the Fremont Drug Company moved to another space on the same block. Reasons could have included a more fireproof site in the Fremont Building which had been newly rebuilt in 1903 after the previous structure had had a fire. Perhaps the storefront at 3423 was considered more visible, or the interior space was better.
I speculate that one main reason for the move of the Fremont Drug Company was the owners’ concerns about disruptions which could be caused by construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. The canal was to pass so closely through the Fremont neighborhood that businesses on the south side of North 34th Street had to be removed. The Fremont Drug Company building was on the north side of North 34th Street and ultimately did not have to be removed for canal construction.
There were also concerns about how street regrading would affect the building. The grade of Fremont Avenue had to be raised slightly to meet the higher elevation of the new Fremont Bridge.
Early photos of the original Fremont Drug Company building show steps up to its front door, and later photos showed the store as level with the street, after the regrading of Fremont Avenue. This was a slight modification in that the canal construction did not really harm this building, but the drugstore had already moved by that time, away from the corner of North 34th Street which seemed threatened by canal construction.
It was Fremont businessmen who were key instigators of the ship canal project, and ironically the canal construction negatively impacted the businesses of at least two of the men who had promoted the ship canal.
Capt. A.J. Goddard was co-owner of the Pacific Iron Foundry located on the Lake Union waterfront at the foot of Aurora Avenue in Fremont. Capt. Goddard served in the Washington State Legislature in 1895 and sponsored the bill which gave the authority to King County to begin identifying sites for the ship canal. Goddard also served on Seattle City Council in the years leading up to construction of the canal beginning in 1911. After all his civic involvement, the timeline and impact of the canal upon Goddard’s iron foundry caused the business to close.
Another key Fremont businessman was Charles E. Remsberg, known as Judge Remsberg because he had been a Justice of the Peace in Fremont in the 1890s.
In addition to serving as an attorney, Remsberg was a real estate developer and founder of a bank in Fremont with co-owner Samuel P. Dixon. Remsberg was the owner of the Fremont Hotel building at 3419-3427 Fremont Avenue, and caused it to be rebuilt with fireproof materials after the fire of 1903.
Remsberg served eight years as a Port of Seattle Commissioner, overseeing the ship canal construction and improvements to the business environment on the downtown Seattle waterfront.
In 1904 Remsberg & Dixon founded a bank at 3414 Fremont Avenue. The bank failed in 1915 which may have been due in part to disruption of business because of the ship canal construction. For long periods of time during canal construction, the Fremont Bridge was closed until a new bridge could be built. Transit lines were cut off as well, and during this time it was difficult to get to the businesses at 34th & Fremont.
The Fremont Drug Company’s former building in the years from 1911 to 1934
After the Fremont Drug Company moved out in 1911, their former building at 3401 Fremont Avenue was used by a variety of businesses. One was a branch office of Preston H. Carr Real Estate. In the background of this undated photo (below) from the Lough family, is the Carr Real Estate name above the door which had once said T. W. Lough, Fremont Drug Company.
Fremont and beer
During Capt. A.J. Goddard’s term of service in the state legislature, it was proposed that the University of Washington move from its original site at Fourth & University Streets in downtown Seattle, out to its present site in northeast Seattle.
In 1895 at the state legislature, Capt. Goddard introduced a bill banning the sale of alcoholic beverages within a two-mile radius of the new University of Washington campus. This two-mile radius reached all the way to the Fremont neighborhood. For this reason there were no saloons or beer parlors in Fremont until after the repeal of Prohibition took effect in 1934. (Source: HistoryLink Essay #8940)
At the time of the 1934 restoration of legality of alcohol use, the Washington State Legislature reduced the “ban” area from two miles down to a one-mile radius around the University of Washington. Some taverns such as the Blue Moon at 712 NE 45th Street became quite famous for being located just steps outside of the ban-boundary.
The 1934 reduction of the alcohol ban-boundary to just one mile around the University of Washington, meant that Fremont got its first alcohol-serving taverns that year. These establishments proliferated as people sought to climb out of the economic depression years of the 1930s by opening small businesses such as cafes and taverns. Soon the building at 3401 Fremont Avenue had not just one, but two taverns operating with the Fremont Tavern at 3401 and the Dubliner at 3407. The position of the building at the prominent business corner of 34th & Fremont Avenue, seemed to lend a “tavern district” atmosphere to the neighborhood.
Fremont struggled during the 1930s
It can be debated whether or not the atmosphere of the Fremont business district deteriorated due to taverns which were established in 1934. During the economic depression of the 1930s there were many other difficulties which contributed to the decline of Fremont.
One definite negative impact upon the Fremont business environment was the 1932 construction of Highway 99/Aurora Avenue with its high bridge over the ship canal. Traffic was no longer routed through Fremont via the Fremont Bridge, and the bypassing of Fremont correlated with the decline of its storefront businesses.
An additional factor was the economic depression of the 1930s during which Fremont’s two major businesses closed down: the Bryant Lumber Mill and McMullen Fuel Company. The lack of jobs in Fremont in the 1930s led to stagnation in the business environment.
During the 1930s businessman J.R. Burke acquired the vacant sites of the aforementioned industries. Burke also acquired the 3401 Fremont Avenue building among many other business investments in Fremont.
The Red Door
The Red Door was established in 1988 in place of the Fremont Tavern. With better economic conditions during the 1980s, the Red Door prospered.
In the year 2001 the building owner, Suzanne M. Burke, daughter of J.R. Burke, arranged to have the building moved over to 3401 Evanston Avenue, so that the Red Door could continue to operate at that site.
Preserved as the former Fremont Drug Company building, the Red Door still has the original pharmacists cabinetry, now used as the back bar.
After moving the Red Door in 2001, a new building was constructed at its former site at the northwest corner of 34th & Fremont. That building’s anchor tenant is Starbucks Coffee.
Forever Blue Moon: the story of Seattle’s most infamous tavern, by Walt Crowley, 1992. Seattle Public Library, 647.94097
Red Door Ale House/Dubliner Tavern Building, City of Seattle Landmark Nomination, September 2000. Seattle Municipal Archives, Series 5754-A5, Box 28, Folder 8.
“Washington State Legislature passes law prohibiting the sale of alcohol on the University of Washington campus in Seattle on March 19, 1895,” HistoryLink Essay #8940 by Jennifer Ott, 2009.