Fun with History

For a change, this week’s post is a history quiz. I’m going to present pictures of three Redwood City locations, and your job is to figure out what they all have in common. The answer follows the third picture, so stop scrolling when you reach it if you don’t want to catch a glimpse of the answer. Hopefully everyone will have a little fun with this, and learn something about the history of Redwood City in the process!

1. The building at 201 Arch Street, near the main entrance to Sequoia High School:

2. The current home of Phó Dông, a Vietnamese restaurant on Broadway just two doors down from City Pub:

3. The U-Haul building on El Camino Real just south of Woodside Road:

Any ideas?




Long-time residents of Redwood City will probably get the answer, especially based on that first picture. But for the rest of us, all three of these locations once were Safeway stores.

From 1939 through 1953 the building on Arch Street was a Safeway. From what I can tell, Safeway was the building’s first tenant. Although I don’t know what this building was after Safeway moved out, I can personally attest to the fact that in 1989, and for a number of years after that, it was a small independent market. Although not the kind of place you’d go to do your regular shopping, my wife and I made numerous trips to the market on Arch Street when we found ourselves short of simple ingredients such as eggs or milk.

The current owners appear to have done a great job preserving this Art Deco building, from the glazed brick corner columns to the metal panels along the tops of the walls.

As for the storefront on Broadway that is today a Vietnamese restaurant, from 1939 through 1948 that storefront was a Safeway store (technically the Safeway was 2614 Broadway, but that address doesn’t exist today). There is a terrific picture of this store from 1945 in Images of America: Redwood City, on page 98.

Before U-Haul moved in, their building housed a Safeway supermarket. And not just any Safeway supermarket: when it opened it was touted to be Safeway’s largest and most modern store on the San Francisco Peninsula. But it is also memorable because about ten days before it was scheduled to open—on June 6, 1951—a massive fire broke out. It took another ten months, but Safeway rebuilt and finally opened in this spot, on March 19, 1952. Looking at the building today, you can clearly see the bones of the original store: very little has changed. Even the green vertical wall that today displays the U-Haul sign was part of the original building. Although it was somewhat taller, it was used for the same purpose: to display a sign that back then said “Safeway.”

So how did you do? Did you enjoy that? Here’s a harder one. What do these three locations have in common (other than the fact that all three are on Main Street in Redwood City)?

1. The Main Street building currently occupied by La Victoria Taqueria, Palermo Italian Restaurant, and Tequila Lounge:

2. The brick building on Main Street occupied by YuMe, next door to where Young’s Auto Parts was until recently:

3. This fancy brick-and-concrete building on Main Street where the street bends (near Maple):

Got it?




Unless you’ve been around Redwood City for a really long time, or unless you really know your Redwood City history, this should have been a lot tougher. The answer? All three of these buildings were either constructed specifically to be auto dealerships, or their first tenants were auto dealers.

First off, the three restaurant spaces at 847-849 Main Street (picture #1). The land that they sit on was, up until 1910, the site of the old Pioneer Stables. The stables closed in 1910, and the lot sat empty until 1922, when a man named William J. Dusel purchased the land and constructed the building we see today—with one major difference. The building he constructed was all one large showroom space. Dues leased his new building to Guy Clifton for Clifton Motors, a Chevrolet dealership. In 1923 a galvanized iron repair shop was built behind the showroom, with its entrance on Walnut Street. I believe that this shop is the metal building at 852 Walnut that still stands today:

Clifton sold the business in 1925, but the Main Street building continued to be an auto sales and service business. In 1929 the building was divided into the three spaces with three separate entrances we see today, with one-third housing the Fowler-Nash Motor Company, and another third housing a furniture company.

The nicely restored brick building at 935 Main Street (next to where Young’s Auto Parts was—#2 in the above set of pictures), sits on part of what was the site of Beal’s Livery Stable. Built in 1920 by Gus Waller, it was the first building in Redwood City designed specifically to be a new car showroom and repair facility (this latter, again, in a metal building in the rear). David M. Flynn, a Ford dealer, was the building’s original tenant. Flynn remained for some six years before selling the dealership to Frank K. Towne in 1926, at which point the dealership was renamed to “Towne Ford Motor Dealership.” Towne operated out of the building for four years, until 1930. He then moved to a rather ornate (but sadly, long gone) building on Middlefield Road behind the Fox Theatre—where, today, the 815 Hamilton project is being constructed. Towne remained there until at least the mid-1950’s, when they moved to the corner of El Camino Real and Maple Street. Towne Ford is of course still in business today, at 1601 El Camino Real.

After Towne the building’s most well-known tenant was Popik’s Furniture.

I should note that Gus Waller not only built the Flynn Ford building, but also built the building next door at 929 Main Street that we know as the “Young’s Auto Parts” building. The original tenant in that building, which was completed in 1922, was a Sunshine Grocery Store—one of a chain of six that extended from Mountain View to San Mateo. This store was unique for the day in that it had departments: a meat market and deli, a bakery, a fruit and vegetable stand, and canned and dry goods. In 1927 it became a Purity Market when the entire chain was sold to Purity Stores, Inc. Finally, Young’s Auto Parts, along with a machine shop, moved in, either in 1946 or 1947.

Finally, we come to building #3, which today houses the Hold Fast Tattoo Studio. In 1924 the Dessin Brothers, who were auto dealers up in Burlingame, opened a Dodge dealership here in Redwood City in the Old Bell Theater building (at 865 Main Street, pretty much where Angelicas is today). But the old theater space proved to be too small, so they bought a large lot on Main Street that extended from Maple Street to Cassia Street. In 1931 they had the building constructed that we see there today (it appears to have been well-preserved), with display and office space, a machine shop, and an auto parts store. The Dessin Brothers operated out of this building through 1935; after that it became Ferris Miles Dodge.

One more. What do these three locations have in common?

1. City Pub building

2. RWC Underground Pub building

3. Gelb Music building

Long-time residents probably won’t have too much trouble with this one.




Although the two pub buildings look similar, that isn’t a clue to the answer. No, the answer I’m looking for is “they were all bakeries.” Indeed, from 1922 through 1962 the building that is now City Pub was home to the Enterprise Bakery. If you looked up the Safeway picture in Images of America: Redwood City, you might have noticed this; that same picture shows the Enterprise Bakery just two doors down from the Safeway.

Picture #2, the current home of the RWC Underground Pub, was a bakery for quite a bit longer: it was one from 1941 or 1942 through at least 1993. This was the “Redwood Pastry Shop.” I did some digging and found that the Redwood Pastry Shop seems to have started back in 1930, in the space directly across the street that today is home to Shiny Nails:

By 1939 the Underground Pub space was Hohn’s Grocery, and the next-door space (to the left, at 2652 Broadway) was L. A. Panos Grocery. By 1941 or 1942, however, Hohn’s Grocery had moved next door, into the space formerly occupied by L. A. Panos Grocery, and Redwood Pastry Shop had moved to the north side of Broadway into the space formerly occupied by Hohn’s Grocery.

Images of America: Redwood City has a great picture on page 40 showing this part of the block back in 1947. In it you can see the Pastry Shop and the grocery next door, which by then had become Popular Market.

Finally, image #3 above shows the Broadway storefront of Gelb Music, at 2726 Broadway. According to the city’s Historic Resources list this building was home to a series of bakeries from 1929 through 1947. Then, from 1948 through the late 1960s it became Sequoia Bakery.

These days we have a number of places where one can get great desserts and some pastries (such as Cafe La Tartine and Pamplemousse Patisserie Et Cafe), but I long for a place where I can get a nice loaf of freshly baked bread. To think that for at least twenty years—from the early forties through the early sixties—we had at least three such places, all on Broadway, and all within a very short distance from one another—makes me wish I could have experienced Redwood City at an earlier time. Redwood City seems to have been a fascinating place in its early days; the more I learn the more I become delighted with it.

I have to thank the ladies in the Karl A. Volleyer Local History Room on the second floor of Redwood City’s main public library for their assistance with doing some of the research for this column. I should also mention that we have another tremendous resource for doing local historical research: the archives within the San Mateo County History Museum (in Courthouse Square). Although I didn’t rely on them for this particular article, I have used them in the past and I can attest to their helpfulness and their great set of resources. Finally, the History Museum itself is a great source of information, as are the many books on Redwood City’s history which are available through our public library system and are for sale in the San Mateo County History Museum’s shop.

So, did you enjoy today’s column? Let me know if you’d like me to do more along these lines. Regardless, I do plan to write more about the history of Redwood City, so watch for those columns in the future.

17 thoughts on “Fun with History

  1. Hello, My name is Jeff Taylor. My family lived in Redwood City dating back to the 1920’s. I really enjoyed this piece of R.C. history. In the 1950’s, my uncle was a butcher on the 800 block of Main St. in the 1950’s at the California Meat Market. I remember the nearby Purity Market with it’s wooden floors, also on Main was Popik’s Furniture and the Alhambra Theater in the Oddfellows Building. I believe the theater was the first one built between San Francisco and San Jose, but I’m not positive. Up stairs there is (was?) a bar with a former owner’s picture hanging above it. His name was Wyatt Earp. He’s buried in a Jewish Cemetery in Colma.

  2. Greg, do you have any info on 2635-2639 Broadway, used to be computer store, bridal store before that… there is a glimpse of it on the video posted in this strand, second 16-17…would love to know more, I got some info that it used to be a boarding house at some point..

    • My rather meagre set of historical resources is yielding no clues, but a quick trip to the library should reveal the answers. I’ve put this on my list of things to check out, and I’ll reply again once I’ve had a chance to visit the library’s History Room. It well could have been a boarding house way back when; we had a lot of those on Broadway as well as on Main.

  3. Greg, I enjoy all of your columns and this was no exception, your walking Redwood City is probably my absolute favorite read and I look forward to it every week. We’re new to Redwood City and only moved here in 1997 but we’re enamored of the location (especially the part that says “Weather best by government test” as we came here from Minnesota which states, Weather worst by popular acclaim. Thanks for the blog and please keep it up!
    Peter Frank

  4. My dad use to take my little sister and myself to enterprise bakery every Saturday morning. A fun and tasty tradition that we looked forward to every week, where we would then go home and watch Saturday morning Warner Bros cartoons with Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd and more. We also use to shop regularly at Food Villa.

  5. I love seeing this history. I moved here in 1951 and remember the bakeries. Sequoia HS class of ’66, always got birthday cakes from all of them.

  6. The small grocery store on Arch was called Food Villa. I remember going there quite a bit before it shut down. Good memories!

    • Ah, that is what it was! Thanks for letting us know. I guess I could have gone back to the library and looked it up, but I was so focused on Safeway stores that I neglected to check who was at that address after Safeway moved out. Thanks!

  7. Number 3 on Main near Maple is a fine example of a classic auto showroom. Have to go to San Francisco’s Van Ness Avenue auto row to best it. Certainly worth preserving.
    The Redwood Pastry had delicious treats. My 50th Birthday cake came from there. The Donut King in Jefferson Plaza near Alameda is about as close as one can get to its standards today.
    Wonderful research.

    • Indeed that old auto showroom building is a beautiful one; I’m very glad that it has been preserved. I do wish some of the bakeries had survived longer; none of them were around by the time my wife and I moved to Redwood City, unfortunately.

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