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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.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Walla Walla's Sweet Tooth

When I say Walla Walla Sweets, I am not referring to baseball or onions. I am talking candy. Residents and visitors certainly appreciate Bright's on Main Street and many remember fondly the many years Russell's Candy was in business. But there is a "ghost sign" on an elegant brick building at 108 South Third that marks Walla Walla Candy Co., an important business in our town's candy history. The sign is faint, but one can make out "Manufacturers and Jobbers." The candy made in this factory was sold wholesale--all over town and beyond. This company existed for years with various owners and different names, but maintained the tradition of supplying the sweet stuff to young and old. An 1889 ad says that the Walla Walla Candy Company (then on Main Street) are "Manufacturers of the Finest French and American Candies and Confectionery. Tropical and domestic Fruits and Nuts. Arctic Soda, Ice Cream and Oysters in their Season." Oysters? Yes, oyster sales often went hand in hand with candy, and many places that you could buy candy sold tobacco too. The vocation of candy maker could be a prestigious one. The Walla Walla Candy Company brought Earl Remington Davenport and his family all the way from Seattle in 1927 to be "head confectioner" and manage their company. By this time the company was owned by two gentlemen whose names Bybee and Burton merged into Burbee, and the Burbee Candy Company became famous not only for their chocolates, but for also for their Bingo Bar. (I'd love to know what a Bingo Bar consisted of. )

Not all candy was made in a factory though. In 1929 the City Directory listed eight "Confectioners, Retail." Besides the larger businesses, such as "Den of Sweets" and "Keyes Confectionery," you could also buy candy from ladies such as "Mrs. Dunnington" and "Mrs. Irene Owen"--probably selling their homemade fudge or divinity from their homes. And of course there is the tobacco connection again. Van's Cigar Store is listed as a candy retailer. Lutcher's, of "Chief Smoke" (the Cigar Store Indian) fame sold candy along with tobacco products.

Walla Walla folks have always appreciated their sweets; the 1931 directory lists an equal number of Retail Confectioners and Dentists. The Union Bulletin stated that in the immediate prewar years Americans ate an average of 19 pounds of candy a year. World War II did make a difference as to the availability of candy due to sugar shortages and rationing. The UB talks about sugar shortages affecting candy makers nationally in 1944. An ad for Russell's says "Candy Hungry? We are at it again as far as it goes---" implying they were getting back to normal candy production after years of war-time sugar rationing.

Candy in Walla Walla is still in good hands, but what happened to that lovely old building on south 3rd after the Walla Walla Candy Company left it? Duff's Creamery moved in in 1933 and operated from there until 1969. After that the building was occupied by a calculator company and then was briefly an art gallery. Vacant since 1983, the windows are boarded and it has a desolate look. Happily, though, we still have the ghost signs on both sides of the charming brick building to remind us of the richness, variety, and history of Walla Walla "sweets."

Thanks, Joe Drazan for the 1923 photo of the Walla Walla Candy Company

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