top of page

Simeon T. Toby's Bank Building

RVHS Photo 1993.001.0006

This photo of the Toby building was taken about 1930. It was built by Simeon T. Toby in 1903, on the Southeast corner of Rainier Avenue and Edmunds Street in Columbia City. This was the original two story building and it had a full basement. Shortly after this photo was taken a third floor was added.

In 1945 Mr. Toby’s son, Thomas, sold the building to a landlord noted for neglecting the buildings they owned. For 50 plus years the building deteriorated. At first businesses were thriving and the housekeeping rooms upstairs were full but over the last two decades that wasn’t the case. Between the building deteriorating and the area’s crime problems in the ‘70s things got pretty grim.

In 1992, however, the building was purchased by Pioneer Human Services and completely rehabilitated with the approval of the City’s Landmarks Preservation Board. It is now a residence for people putting their lives back together and it is a real asset for the community 

My grandfather, Will Brown, explained to me many years ago the circumstances surrounding the purchase of land by Simeon to build a bank. The two had met on a previous occasion. Simeon was coming out to the Hillman City area from Seattle on the Seattle, Renton and Southern Ry., as the streetcar line was named at that time. He decided to stop off in Columbia City to visit with Will. Simeon mentioned to him that he was on his way south to the Hillman area to purchase some land, put up a building, and establish a bank.

Will Brown was somewhat involved in real estate and was a stock holder in Columbia City’s Rainier Valley Investment Company in addition to his job as motorman on the streetcar line. When Simeon mentioned where he was headed and why, my Grandad insisted on showing him a choice corner lot available in Columbia. As my Grandfather told me, “I offered him such a good price, he decided to invest in Columbia City”. Hillman City’s loss was Columbia City’s gain.

Simeon did construct the building and a few years later he opened his bank. He did not have the $10,000 needed to obtain a State Charter, however, so he formed a private bank, “S. T. Toby Bank”. A year later he obtained the needed Charter and his bank, in 1910, became the “Rainier Valley State Bank”. My grandfather had the honor of being the first depositor at the new bank.

Toby left for an Around-The-World tour in 1920 leaving his son, Thomas S. Toby in charge of the bank. After his return he formed the Southern Savings & Loan next door in 1922. In 1924 Simeon Toby died and Thomas became head of the banks. It was about this time that Seattle First Bank took over Toby’s bank and relocated the bank on the corner across Edmunds Street. The above photo of the bank was taken after the bank had moved and the space was occupied by Cameron Drug Store.

Simeon was active in the community and probably was remembered most for his efforts in convincing the city about the need for a road over Beacon Hill. In order to get to Georgetown and West Seattle, it was necessary at that time to go all the way to Dearborn Street and then back along Airport Way. He was successful with his project and the city put his name on a large, bronze, embossed plaque with the phrase “The Father of Columbian Way”. The city mounted the plaque on a large rock in a mini park diagonally across the intersection from his building in Columbia.

Seafirst Bank constructed a new building in 1950 on the corner where the plaque was located. When excavation began the rock and the plaque had to be removed. What happened to it was a mystery for many years. Finally, in the early ‘90s, it showed up when a city employee brought it out to Lou Soreano at Soreano’s Plumbing Co. here in Columbia. Then the debate started as to what to do with it. 

Pioneer Human Services was planning a complete renovation of the old Toby building about that time so we approached them with the suggestion that the exterior brick face of the building would be the appropriate place to mount the plaque. They agreed and as the building neared completion they installed it on the side of the building just above where the dog is sitting in the photo.

 The recessed corner entry door shown in the old photo had been moved forward to be flush with the sidewalk. When Pioneer Human Services was planning the remodel they decided the door should be restored to the recessed corner location in keeping with the original design.

The Toby Building, over the past 97 years, has been home to all kinds of businesses. In addition to the corner site there were two other store fronts on the Rainier Avenue side of the building and a large space at the back of the building that fronted Edmunds Street.

I would like to mention just a few of the businesses that occupied the building over the years: In 1904 -- Grayson Brothers Hardware and Furniture,  1905 to 1911 - Columbia Station Post Office,  1915 - Andrea Jenson Pool Room,  1915 - Adolph W. Delzer Barber Shop  1916 - A. B. Watson Merchant Taylor,  1916 - Modern Woodmen of America Hall,  1916 - W.B. Wells 5, 10, 15, 25 Cent Store,  1916 - Pure Food Mkt, Fuss and Lane proprietors,  1928 - Harry Marsh Real Estate,  1929 - Columbia Malt Shop,  1930’s - Cameron’s Drug Store,  1936 - Rainier Realty,  1945 - Clay Yost Insurance,  and 1950 - Althea Drennan’s Beauty Shop.

The entrance to the upstairs housekeeping rooms was on the left side of the building on Edmunds Street. The door next to it went downstairs. Down a long flight of wooden stairs ending in the basement’s 1920’s Pool Hall. It was listed in the directory of the Pioneers of Columbia City History Book as: “Pool Hall, Restrooms in Basement’.

Actually the restrooms were outside the pool room. They were underground with the Edmunds Street sidewalk also serving as a ceiling. That ceiling over the bathrooms consisting of segments made up of four inch square glass blocks. 

There was an area in one corner of the basement about ten by fifteen feet that no one could get into however because it was a solid block of concrete from floor to ceiling. Simeon was apparently concerned about security as it was located directly under his bank vault.

The basement and part of the main floor space was later taken over by Rainier Valley Transfer and Storage Co. owned by the Verhagen family. They rented part of the main floor where they sold furniture and they rented out storage space in the basement area. In about 1941 they moved to a new location at 5016 Rainier Avenue just South of Hudson Street. Within a few years it became the Rainier Furniture Co. owned by Dick and Merle Hammons.

Grayson and Brown Hardware and Furniture, adjacent to the Toby building, was owned and operated in the mid 40s by my dad Arthur Anderson and his partner Henry Peterson. They were doing quite well and needed more space so they leased the entire basement area of the Toby building for a warehouse. The main floor on the back section of the Toby building became their sales floor for kitchen appliances and dinette sets. They had removed part of the common wall between the Toby and the Grayson & Brown buildings giving them an additional 6500 sq. ft of floor space. 

It was in 1972 that Columbia City was designated as an historic district and extensive remodeling of the streets and sidewalks were underway. They were just started to dig up the sidewalks in front of the Toby building when I asked the engineer on the job what they were going to do with the two rest rooms under the sidewalk that serviced the old basement pool hall. He had no knowledge of them and they were not shown on the plans. He said they would probably be filled in but he wanted to take a look at them.

The doors to the basement restrooms had been blocked by floor to ceiling wood shelving installed in 1945, almost thirty years prior to the street remodeling project. Over the weekend I dismantled the shelving and opened the door without a clue as to what I would find inside. 

The first thing I noticed were the high quality white porcelain fixtures with chrome faucets, valves and pipes. I saved all of the removable parts, adding them to my antique collection. I can’t throw away stuff like that.

There was an old Philco, wood console radio sitting on the floor, probably left over from when the Verhagens rented out the space for storage. Unfortunetly the wood was completely delaminated from the dampness but I saved the decorative metal trim and added that to my collection also.

One thing that I almost overlooked in the dim light was a sheet of printed paper laying on top of the radio. It turned out to be a single page from a 1910 Sears Roebuck catalog. I took that, plus the other things I had salvaged, and proceeded upstairs where the light was better to examine them.

Upstairs I had a collection of antiques displayed on a ledge above our wall displays. I probably had about 100 lineal feet of shelf space with a variety of antiques I had collected over the past 60 years. They included a carpet stretcher dated 1899, a hand crank 16 mm movie projector, several photographs of our family business blown up to poster size and the largest and one of my favorite items, an old wooden tub washing machine.

 It had a heavy cast iron fly wheel that the operator would push or pull to start it turning. Then, by pumping the handle, the shaft would continue to turn and the attached gears would cause a wooden agitator to rotate back and forth inside the tub, cleaning the clothes.

I had received that washing machine as a trade-in on a furniture sale. You can still see the faded turquoise label on the front that says “High Speed Wizard.”

 I glanced down at the single page from the 1910 Sears catalog I had in my hand. The main item featured on that page, priced at $7.15, was an illustration of that same “High Speed Wizard” washing machine that was on the ledge above me. I couldn’t believe it.

That single catalog page had been laying on top of the radio, locked up in that damp restroom, for at almost 30 years. The washing machine I had, however, would have cost a little more than the one illustrated as mine has the hand operated clothes wringer attachment on top of the tub.

The washing machine presently holds a place of honor in my living room at home and supports my wife’s Ficus benjamina house plant.


Days Gone By

South District Journal 1/19/2000

By Buzz Anderson

Membership in the Rainier Valley Historical Society is open to everyone interested in learning about the fascinating history of our Rainier Valley. Members receive our quarterly eight-page newsletter. 


bottom of page