Our fair city of Yakima has managed to tell a compelling story during its short 125 years as a community — one of growth, unity, and prosperity. A rich history is beautifully told through the winding streets and vibrant valleys. There’s a lot to be learned, and luckily, there are plenty of historic buildings in Yakima telling chapters of that history even now.

Yakima historic buildings
Just after being purchased by the City of Yakima in 1975, much of the Capitol burned to the ground in a tragic fire, leaving nothing but a smoldering facade. The newly formed nonprofit, Capitol Theatre Committee, led fundraising efforts to restore the Theatre to its original glory. Photo courtesy: The Capitol Theatre

Capitol Theatre

109 S. 3rd St.

For over a century, the Capitol Theatre has been serving the Yakima community. Initially built in 1920, the theatre has played a historic role as the focal point for the region’s growth and development of the cultural fabric. The theatre came to life way back after Frederick Mercy Sr, operating a chain of theatres throughout Washington at the time, realized that Yakima did not have a large vaudeville house. It was then that he commissioned B. Marcus Priteca, who was famous for his theatre designs, to design the largest and best combination theatre in the West.

This resulted in the construction of Yakima’s beautiful Capitol Theatre, complete with motion pictures, vaudeville, and road show amenities. Today, the theatre continues to play an essential role as the city’s premier performing arts venue hosting an average of 175 events a year.

Union Pacific Freight Building

Yakima historic buildings
The Union Pacific Freight Building showcases early Yakima architecture and transportation history. Photo courtesy: City of Yakima

104 W. Yakima Ave.

Reflecting a piece of Yakima’s early transportation growth is the Union Pacific Freight Building on Yakima Avenue. In the early 1910s, the Union Pacific System was an avid competitor to the Northern Pacific Railroad. Thus they began work on a line of tracks into the Yakima Valley from 1911 to 1923. Hoping to lure customers away from the Northern Pacific Railroad, they devised a plan to build their freight loading facility only two blocks away from their depots.

The company’s tracks were situated on the edge of the central business district, making the location for the structure the perfect spot as it allowed them to combine its business offices and freight handling operations all in one central building. Running everything from this central spot gave the company the leg up it needed, and now today, the Union Pacific Freight Building is a beautifully intact example of a railroad facility, one that just so happens to be of particular importance in the agricultural and economic history of the Yakima Valley.

YMCA Building

Yakima historic buildings
The historic YMCA Building is still helping women and girls of our Yakima Community to this day. Photo courtesy: City of Yakima

15 N. Naches Ave.

In 1909 a handful of young women decided they needed a special place for themselves, leading to the formation of YMCA Yakima that same year and eventually the development of the YMCA Building in the area. Yakima philanthropist Alexander Miller donated $80,000 to the cause, and founding board member Mary Remy designed the building that would become the first home for YMCA Yakima.

Ground broke in August of 1934 with architect John Maloney running construction on the Colonial Revival style building, and the building dedication was held a year later in 1935. From then on, the structure served as a center of physical, social, and cultural activity for the region’s young women and continues to play a significant role in promoting the welfare of women and girls in the Yakima Valley community.

A.E. Larson Building

Yakima historic buildings
The A.E. Larson Building is beautifully decorated in lights. Photo credit: Enrique Cerna

6 S. 2nd St.

Built in 1931, the A.E. Larson Building was by far the tallest in Yakima after its construction, standing 11 stories tall. Adelbert E. Larson can be credited for its creation along with local Yakima architect John W. Maloney. Larson had moved to Yakima in 1891 during the city’s formative year to buy a lumberyard. He quickly became a successful businessman, purchased real estate, involved himself in area politics, and promoted local businesses.

He believed wholeheartedly in the economic progress of the new city he now called home and that creating the city’s first skyline would usher in a new, cosmopolitan age for the town. In fact, he was so committed he didn’t even let the Great Depression stop him, committing $600,000 of his own funds to the project. Today, the A.E. Larson Building is still the tallest in the community, mirroring Larson’s promotion of small businesses by housing various local retail shops on the ground floor.

Each of these buildings still stands, along with many other historic homes and trolley tracks, telling the history of our grand city of Yakima’s growth. Like the city’s residents, these structures are still thriving, simultaneously serving those who call the city home today and telling the story of those who called it home before them.

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