The Grid: Rockefeller honors mostly absent millionaire

  • By Andy Rathbun Herald Writer
  • Friday, July 20, 2012 7:11pm
  • LifeEverett

The wealthiest man in America didn’t come to say hello — he came to say goodbye.

John D. Rockefeller only visited Everett once, on June 12, 1899. During that sole visit, he was preparing to purge his portfolio of some investments, the city of Everett included.

“When he wrote his autobiography, he talked about his unfortunate investments in the Northwest,” said David Dilgard, historian with the Everett Public Library. “We were one of those.”

Rockefeller probably never saw the downtown street that bore his name, Dilgard said. Instead, he rarely got out of his car to look at his smelter, his paper mill, his — well — everything.

“He was an owner, either visibly or underneath, of virtually everything that got developed here,” Dilgard said.

He had invested in Everett because of religion. Charles Colby, one of the driving forces behind the city’s creation, worshipped alongside Rockefeller in New York City at the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church.

“Colby had the trust and the friendship of John,” Dilgard said.

Rockefeller cut ties to the city a few years after Colby’s death, and less than a decade into Everett’s young life.

Rockefeller Avenue didn’t crumble in his absence, though. It thrived. Today, it has almost too many notable sites to name. All came after the millionaire left.

The stately Central Building, designed by the architectural firm of Morrison and Stimson in the mid-1920s, eventually held the first law office of Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson.

Across the street, the Commerce Building, another towering hulk, was built in 1910 by Benjamin Turnbull, famed architect of early Everett. It now claims as a tenant Balefire, the fine wine and beer bar.

The YMCA originally opened on the corner of Rockefeller and California in 1901. It burned down in 1920, was rebuilt and, decade by decade, expanded. It now occupies almost an entire block.

That’s just a small sampling. The list goes on. And on. And on.

It’s enough to make you snicker at old John D.

Turns out, Everett wasn’t such a bad investment after all.

For previous stories in this series, go to www.heraldnet.com/thegrid.

More Rockefeller sites

• The Snohomish County Courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places.

• The First Presbyterian Church, known for its red brick and stained glass, is one of several houses of worship on the street.

• The Dance School, which, in a neat bit of historical symmetry, claimed the spot of Betty Spooner’s School of the Dance. The old studio’s name remains painted across the building.

• The Port Gardner Bay Winery, which now has a tasting room with evening weekend hours at the corner of Rockefeller and California.

Fun with mnemonics!

Every Monday, we’ll profile a downtown Everett street, as we challenge readers to come up with a mnemonic device to remember their order: Broadway, Lombard, Oakes, Rockefeller, Wetmore, Colby, Hoyt, Rucker and Grand. Reader Tina Glover suggests: “Buxom ladies offer rewards which chaste husbands refuse, generally.” Send your ideas to Andy Rathbun at arathbun@heraldnet.com or call him at 425-339-3479. Top ideas will win a prize.

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