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I have lived in Walla Walla for four years and I plan on living out my days here. I have been writing about local buildings for three years now and am so grateful to have so many fascinating places to research.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Gracious Gardener's Department Store

It is not hard to envision a department store occupying the large building on the corner of 3rd and Main where today you can find the AmericanWest Bank. What is hard to imagine is just how elegant and varied an establishment the three-floored Gardner's Department Store was. There was a department store at that location prior to Gardner's. The Schwabacher brothers had one there until they sold out to Gardner's in 1909. The building we see today, though, was built by the Gardners. You would expect glass cases displaying "Dependable Wearables" as the ads said. The second floor sold ladies' dresses made of exotic sounding fabrics such as "Marquisette Voile, Rice Cloth and Illuminated Grennadine." You could purchase children's clothes on the same floor: "Smart Dresses of Serge for Girls in their teens" and "Chic Little Coats for the little folks." Gardner's Department Store took fashion seriously. The Union Bulletin featured news stories about Ward Gardner's buying trips to New York. 

Friends of mine shared their Gardner's memories. June remembers Gardner's annual spring fashion shows and what an honor it was to be asked to model for them. A 1947 Union Bulletin article reported that the spring review would feature "the newest in spring creations for the discerning miss or matron" and would be "modeled by a bevy of mannequins, both adult and juvenile." Diane emphasizes that Gardner's wasn't the kind of place you would paw through the merchandise. Instead, the elderly salesladies would bring goods out from display cases for you to consider. A few of the employees were memorable; Betty recalls how during the war--when new silk stockings could not be bought--a lady named Lulu was stationed back by the elevator. Customers could bring Lulu their stockings full of runs and she would mend them. Jodee remembers Ila May, who was in charge of the Yarn Department, and could be found there any day knitting or crocheting. Ila May regularly conducted knitting classes and wore outfits she had created with her needles.

You might not expect that in the same store where you could buy baby clothes imported from Italy and fine leather gloves, you were also able to purchase lamb chops. "Ham Shanks, fine for boiling, Beef Roast, grade A, and fryers, young birds" were displayed on the first floor, but were cut in the basement. A gentleman who works at the bank now told me that the butchers who cut meat down below left gashes made by their cleavers in the floor's supporting posts. The meat and produce areas maintained the same elegance as the clothing departments. White-coated clerks were at your service there. Even as early as 1937, "misters" were in place that kept the fruit and vegetables "fresh and cold." Everyday goods such as canned food, laundry soap, clocks, lamps, and pots and pans were also available at Gardner's. Customers could call in orders--before noon--and have groceries sent to their homes with no delivery charge. Joe Drazan provides us with the 1949 photo of Gardner's and its fleet of delivery trucks.

Walla Walla had Gardner's goods and services available for many years and when the department store closed its doors in 1980, its customers knew it was not likely there would ever be another Gardner's Department Store. The store that provided one-stop shopping in gracious surroundings was sadly missed.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if any of the folks you talk to about Gardner's would remember my mom, Lucile Jameson. She worked there in late 40s or early 50s….did advertising and some modeling for them too. She loved working for them!

    Rob Gunn