AKA: Frederick & Nelson Building #3, Downtown, Seattle, WA; Nordstrom Department Store #3, Downtown, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - department stores

Designers: Graham, John and Company, Architects and Engineers (firm); McKinstry / Roberge (firm); Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, (SOM), Chicago, IL (firm); John Graham Sr. (architect/engineer); John Graham Jr. (architect); John Ogden Merrill (architect); Nathaniel Alexander Owings (architect); Louis Skidmore Sr. (architect)

Dates: constructed 1916-1918

10 stories, total floor area: 693,450 sq. ft.

500 Pine Street
Seattle, WA 98101-1744

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Building History

Donald Edward Frederick (1860-1937), born in GA, and Nels Nelson (1854-1907) began as partners in a used furniture business on Front Street in 1890, right after Seattle's Great Fire of 1889. Frederick and Nelson gradually branched into becoming a full-fledged department store; by 1918, Frederick alone was operating the now-thriving concern (Nelson died in 1907), and he decided to erect a huge new store, at 5th Avenue and Pine Street. Many doubted his strategy of building the new flagship store away from the current central retail district on 2nd, but his store served as a magnet moving the retail heart of the city north to the Pine Street corridor. The new store attracted 25,000 enthusiastic customers on its first day of business, Tuesday, 09/03/1918. Nearing his own retirement in 1929, Frederick sold his business to Marshall Field and Company, the Chicago-based department store chain, a firm that he had long admired, for $6 million. With Marshall Field directing its growth, Frederick and Nelson was slow to expand into the expanding suburbs of Seattle; Bellevue, WA, stores opened in 1946 and 1956, but little other expansion occurred until the 1970s, eroding the store's suburban market share. (Frederick and Nelson operated 4 stores in the Seattle area between 1929-1978, the main one downtown and 3 others sprinkled sparsely across Puget Sound. Between 1978-1980, the chain undertook an ambitious expansion plan in the region, growing to 15 stores, but growth occurred too quickly in poor economic conditions.) The British American Tobacco Company began to diversify beyond tobacco in the 1980s, and its Louisville, KY-based subsidiary, Batus, Incorporated, purchased Marshall Field and Company in 1982, and sold off Frederick and Nelson to local owners, the F and N Acquisition Company, a group led by real estate developer Basil D. Vyzis (1945-1996), in 1986. David A. Sabey (born c. 1947), another Seattle real estate developer, bought Frederick and Nelson in 1989 and attempted to cut costs and save it. Awash in $100 million of debt, Sabey sought bankruptcy protection in 1991. After 102 years in business, Frederick and Nelson ceased operations on 05/31/1992.

Building Notes

As originally configured, the building had five stories, with a tall first floor. Architect John Graham, Sr., (1873-1955) gave the exterior a vaguely Italian Renaissance flavor, with triplets of double-hung windows separated by pilasters, the whole composition topped by a classical cornice. While the exterior had a conventional, appropriate appearance, the architect put special effort into producing a technologically modern department store with new heating and ventilation equipment, multiple banks of elevators and other consumer amenities (a women's tea room, men's grill, beauty parlor, auditorium) included to attract customers and boost merchandising profits. (Frederick and Nelson prided itself on the reliability of its delivery services. To insure rapid loading of its delivery vehicles, a huge freight elevator could take a truck to a specific floor to be loaded directly.) In 2012, the reinforced-concrete store occupied a 64,768-square-foot (1.49-acre) parcel bounded by Pine Street on the south, 5th Avenue on the west, 6th Avenue on the east and Olive Way on the north. The mammoth building contained 693,450 gross square feet, 648,365 net. The store and its site had a value set by the King County Assessor at $68,443,000, of which the building accounted for $52,251,000.


John Graham Company collaborated with the Chicago Office of Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) on large-scale alterations to the flagship Frederick and Nelson Store between 1950-1952; these included the removal of a large cornice on the building's facade, and the addition of 5 floors. SOM Chicago was responsible for all interior architecture during the remodel. The remodeled store, which was really a self-contained city in a building, opened on 08/04/1952. It contained a post office, movie theatre, medical clinic, nursery, kindergarten, three restaurants (the Tea Room, Men's Grill and Paul Bunyan Room) and candy factory. According to King County records, the Nordstrom Department Store chain purchased the old Frederick and Nelson Building on 04/04/1996 for $26,720,000.00, and renovated it between 03/14/1996-05/12/2000 to become its flagship store in Downtown Seattle. McKinstry/Roberge served as a contractor on this $31,964,809 renovation. Alterations costing $275,000 occurred to the building's first and second floors during 2006-2007, and others costing $375,000 were done on the first floor between 01-07/2012.


Demolition of the former Frederick and Nelson Store was discussed after the firm went out of business on 05/31/1992, but averted in 1996, when Seattle retailer Nordstrom purchased the building for reuse as its flagship store.

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