In 1920 a building was erected on the corner of Main and Spokane the likes of which Walla Walla had never seen. Mr. A. M. Jensen, an established local businessman, hired the Beezer Brothers from Seattle to build a department store that would make a statement.The two stories of A. M. Jensen's store were clad in intricate sculptural forms made of white glazed terra cotta. Surrounded by stately brick offices with tall curved windows that were typical of Walla Walla's downtown in 1920, this new building must have seemed quite the architectural anomaly. Up to the Times magazine, February 1920, described it as "a handsome building, metropolitan in its appointments." Mr. Jensen's ad described the residents of the Walla Walla Valley as "progressive people" who "demand that the store keeper do his share and provide merchandizing service in keeping with the present day and age."
The architects, Louis and Michael Beezer, were twins and devout Catholics. They had commissions all over Washington state, but designed mostly churches and banks, including Walla Walla's First National (now Banner) and Baker-Boyer Bank. The Beezers were based in Seattle but also had an office locally, in the Drumheller Building. The brothers' experience with designing churches led to their acquaintance with Charles J. Connick, a master stained glass designer, and they invited him to design windows for the store. Mr. Connick knew Mr. Jensen liked to describe his establishment as " the modern daylight store" and created windows of leaded glass to illuminate the interior. The combination of Connick's windows and the roof-to-pavement white glazed terra cotta facade made A. M. Jensen's bright and beautiful inside and out.
Mr. Jensen had a department store on Alder for years before he opened this new store on Main in 1920. He knew he could not rely on his remarkable building alone to attract customers; Jensen's offered a wide variety of clothing, appliances, furniture, radios and toys. The 90 employees were not only sales staff; some worked in the "Marinello Beauty Salon" and there were cooks and waitpersons staffing Jensen's Tea Room. A 1920 ad for the Tea Room said Saturday evening dinner was available for $1, and entertainment was provided by "Cowan's orchestra, conducted by Miss Etta Holt."
Mr. Jensen died in 1948 at age 80; he had been in the department store business for 36 years. The Allied Department Stores bought his store and in 1951 changed its name to Bon Marché and began "improvements." It is not clear when the terra cotta on the street level was bricked over, when the elegant wrought iron awning over the front entrance was removed, or what happened to Charles Connick's leaded glass windows. A 1993 parade photo with the Bon Marché in the background shows an awning running around the building as it does today, brick covering the first floor terracotta and the upstairs windows covered. The Bon operated their store until 2005 when Federated Department stores rebranded the store as Macy's.
Walla Walla residents are grateful to still have a department store downtown, and Macy's inside still has a classic department store "feel." The architectural drawing provided by Joe Drazan shows us what A.M. Jensen's looked like in 1920. Standing across Main street and looking above the awning, the remaining sculptural white glazed terra cotta facade can still be seen on the second story, and using our imagination we can visualize it covering the first story too. Our mind's eye can uncover the upstairs windows and enlarge those downstairs. With some effort, 93 years after it was built, we can still see A. M. Jensen's one-of-a-kind "modern daylight store."