Melted washing machines and dryers can be seen in the Judd & Black appliance store at 3001 Hewitt Ave. on Saturday in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Melted washing machines and dryers can be seen in the Judd & Black appliance store at 3001 Hewitt Ave. on Saturday in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

‘Suspicious’ fire destroys historic flagship Judd & Black store

The venerable retailer on Hewitt Avenue burned late Friday. Police and fire officials are investigating.

EVERETT — The bricks were laid in 1892 on Hewitt Avenue, making it one of the oldest buildings in Everett, one year older than the city itself.

Its rooms have contained multitudes, from saloon to cigar room to motorcycle shop to gospel mission to motel to bottling plant. Since 1962, it has been a home to storied local business Judd & Black, at the westernmost edge of U.S. 2.

The flagship store of the venerable Everett appliance retailer burned Friday night in a three-alarm fire. Over a century of history was erased in a night.

The fire that consumed the two-story building at 3001 Hewitt Ave. is considered “very suspicious,” Everett Fire Chief Dave DeMarco said Saturday, as investigators began examining the wreckage. An early estimate pinned the loss at $3.3 million, along with the destruction of local history, and a big piece of an Everett institution that has been passed down for generations.

Employees who worked there are expected to be moved to Judd & Black’s nearby satellites, in Lynnwood and Marysville.

“We’re a family-owned company, so it’s important to us to take care of our customers and employees,” company president Bob Long III said on Saturday. “Our building burned down last night, but our trucks were rolling this morning.”

Everett firefighters spray water on the still-smoldering Judd & Black appliance store at 3001 Hewitt Ave. on Saturday in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Everett firefighters spray water on the still-smoldering Judd & Black appliance store at 3001 Hewitt Ave. on Saturday in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Friday’s fire

Flames broke out around 7:30 p.m. at the corner of Hewitt and Maple Street. Quickly the fire went to second alarm.

Engines from Naval Station Everett and Marysville joined forces with city firefighters to battle giant stubborn flames. A flickering orange glow lit up a wide hole where the roof had been.

Water from ladder trucks cascaded down onto the second-story rooftop of the landmark building. Dozens of people flocked to witness the spectacle. No one was injured.

“Sad is what it is,” said Jason Scholes, a former employee who watched from a Judd & Black parking lot on Maple. “I worked there for 18 years. So it’s like a big part of your life …”

“Up in flames, up in smoke,” said another ex-employee, Travis Zingleman, finishing the sentence for him. Zingleman had been returning home across the street, when he saw the towering ash-gray plume billowing north along I-5.

“I saw a whole bunch of fire trucks,” he said, “and I was praying it wasn’t my building.”

The fire apparently started at the northeast corner of the two-story structure. The men knew that upper floor as a maze of modern conveniences, a hot, dusty space built of old wood.

“Appliances, all appliances,” said Scholes, who had worked in delivery, service and management, over the years. “All of the upstairs was a warehouse, full of, like, probably a hundred refrigerators, a couple hundred washers and dryers, stacked on top of each other. They would use a conveyor belt, and bring them up into the warehouse.”

“Everything’s wood,” Zingleman said.

“Everything’s wood and cardboard up there. It was always hot and dry up there,” Scholes said.

Initial reports suggested the fire spread from a dumpster, but fire crews at the scene said that didn’t appear to be true. The dumpsters were empty. None were burning when Engine 2 arrived, Assistant Everett Fire Marshal Steven Goforth said. Flames kept flaring up until about midnight.

Firefighters from three agencies helped fight the three-alarm fire at the Judd & Black appliance store in Everett Friday night. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Firefighters from three agencies helped fight the three-alarm fire at the Judd & Black appliance store in Everett Friday night. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A large team of investigators gathered on Hewitt on Saturday morning. About half were with the police, looking at the fire as a possible crime, the Everett fire chief said. DeMarco declined to elaborate on what was suspicious. It could take days to determine a cause.

A drone flew into the burned-out husk of the building to take photos of damage Saturday, when smoke still drifted from the rubble at times. It was a total loss. The footprint is 6,000 square feet. An early estimate pegged the destroyed contents at $2 million. The building had been assessed at $1.3 million. It’s owned by the same family that owns Judd & Black.

The intersection of Hewitt, Maple and U.S. 2 remained shut down Saturday. Firefighters feared heat-damaged walls — a metal skin, with old brick underneath — could collapse into the street. They were waiting for a building inspector to say the structural integrity was sound.

Meanwhile, public utility crews worked to restore electricity to the stoves, microwaves and refrigerators of neighboring homes.

A historic loss

Judd & Black has been an integral part of the local business community for more than three-quarters of a century.

In 1940, a man named Wayne Judd opened a small electric shop, selling and repairing newfangled gadgets, like cake mixers and toasters. Don Black joined a few years later. It has remained locally owned since, with stores from Lynnwood to Bellingham. An Everett service center across the street from the fire wasn’t damaged.

The Judd & Black appliance store at 3001 Hewitt Ave. in Everett burns late Friday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The Judd & Black appliance store at 3001 Hewitt Ave. in Everett burns late Friday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A striped blue-and-yellow awning on the south face of the burned building reads, “Your Hometown Appliance Store.”

Semi trucks zipping along I-5 come within feet of the red neon letters — “JUDD” “BLACK” — at the overpass of U.S. 2.

There was no freeway in March 1892, when construction began on the Bast Building at 3001 Hewitt. It was finished three months later.

Everett was a speculative boom town. It had just been named the terminus of the Great Northern Railway, in the wake of Washington’s new statehood. It became a city in 1893.

One of Everett’s first architects, Frederick A. Sexton, designed the Bast Building, named for a brick manufacturer that was one of the city’s early industrial giants. Sexton put his own offices at 3001 Hewitt Ave., in the building built from Bast bricks, according to records kept by local historian Jack O’Donnell. The architect worked often with the Swalwells, the family who owned, platted and developed much of the Riverside neighborhood.

Like many of Everett’s buildings from that era, it had retail on the ground floor with living quarters above. It held three storefronts.

Another building in 1903 was built right next door, to house a cigar business. In recent years, the two buildings merged. Other neighbors are long gone, demolished for the freeway.

Early tenants were the Boston Clothing Store and a dentist named Dr. McLaren, who announced on Nov. 15, 1894, that the Bast Building is “where he will welcome all of his friends,” according to O’Donnell’s records. Later came Robinson’s Sample Room, a saloon; William G. Allan’s Men’s Furnishings; and M.A. Goodykoontz Hardware. A motorcycle shop and several grocery stores moved in later.

During the First World War, it was the Hotel Bristol.

The Bast Building, at left, on Hewitt Avenue in 1911. (Everett Public Library)

The Bast Building, at left, on Hewitt Avenue in 1911. (Everett Public Library)

In the ’20s, it was the Wright Hotel.

In the ’30s, it suddenly became The Majestic Rooms, then The Majestic Apartments in the 1940s.

For years it was in the bottling business, known as the 7 Up Building.

The Everett Gospel Mission arrived next door, in the old cigar store building, in the 1960s.

Judd & Black spent about two decades at 1908 Broadway, before moving into the bigger, grander space on Hewitt.

Like the mythic ship of Theseus, so many pieces have been replaced, remodeled and refurbished that it’s hard to say if the buildings from 1892 still have the same spirit. White metal covered the brick, in one of its needed structural reinforcements.

“It is believed that the building has been altered beyond reasonable hope of redemption,” reads a note on its historic value, from a 1989 survey by David Dilgard and Margaret Riddle.

Bricks tore loose in the firefighting Friday, spilling onto the asphalt in a back lot. The metal singed and warped.

A local landmark

A lot of places sell appliances, Long said.

Not a lot of places sell them, deliver them, install them and service them, all with local ownership. Many times Judd & Black has earned accolades as the best in the business, in this newspaper. Often the company raises money for nonprofits — and on the day of the fire, The Daily Herald published an online story on $11,000 in donations to the local Boys & Girls Club and Christmas House, a charity that gives holiday gifts to kids in low-income families.

“We take care of our customers, that’s the bottom line,” Bob Long III said Saturday. “There’s not a great big trick past that. … When you grow up in something, you kind of live by a certain way of doing things.”

His grandfather Bob Long Sr. bought the company in 1976. He chose to keep the name of the original owners. Everett residents like O’Donnell are loyal to a business that has stuck around and thrived in the 98201 ZIP code.

“My mother always thought a television was a piece of furniture, and that was the only place she’d shop for a television,” he said. “And I know so many people who feel that way, because they’re a local company. They’ve been good to Everett.”

O’Donnell remembers being rung up by the Long family for many years.

“We bought our first VCR camera, the whole nine yards,” he said. “Remember when those came out? You carried your video camera and a suitcase of a battery with it.”

Years ago, Judd & Black got out of television sales. Now the flagship store is stuffed with washing machines, ovens and other useful things.

On Friday night, Long took a phone call from the fire department. He went to Hewitt and saw the building burning, and he was in disbelief. It was still on fire when he went home. He sent out an email around 2 a.m., to reassure employees that their jobs were safe.

“While old and a bit run down, the building was solid and full of character,” he wrote. “It had supported our family and many others for years and years, it will be missed. However it was just a building and the best part of it was the people that worked inside day after day year after year.”

His hope is that people will be willing to travel north or south of Everett, to remain customers.

“It’s sad more from the generational standpoint than anything else, to know my grandfather walked through those doors, and my dad,” Long said, “and walking in their footsteps, now that they’re also both gone.”

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; Twitter: @snocaleb.

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