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Olympia in the 1950s Through These Stunning Historical Photos

In the 1950s, Olympians celebrated their 100th anniversary despite Mother Nature’s calamity. Since that time, Olympia has flourished as a radio and entertainment hub, owning a radio station, a television station, and two daily newspapers.

In 1953, the city had a population of nearly 17,000 people. In the 1950s, state government grew, and although Sylvester Park was spared a state parking garage, the capital campus moved east of Capitol Way, and several historic buildings were demolished. Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater were joined by Interstate-5, which reshaped travel and growth. And these photos show what Olympia looked like in the 1950s

#1 Breaking ground for the Washington State Library, Olympia, 1957

Breaking ground for the Washington State Library, Olympia, 1957

Governor Rosellini stands, holding a shovel, while a man speaks into a microphone. Maryan Reynolds (State Librarian) stands between them. A crowd surrounds them.

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#2 Cherberg and O’Brien buildings, Olympia, 1956

Cherberg and O'Brien buildings, Olympia, 1956

Includes cars and parking lot. Governor's Mansion is partially visible.

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#3 Cherberg Building, also known as the Public Lands Building, located on the Washington State Capitol Campus, 1958.

Cherberg Building, also known as the Public Lands Building, located on the Washington State Capitol Campus, 1958.

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#4 Institutions Building, Olympia, 1950

Institutions Building, Olympia, 1950

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#5 Insurance Building, 1950s

Insurance Building, 1950s

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#6 Pritchard Building under construction, 1958

Pritchard Building under construction, 1958

Photo shows the Pritchard Building under construction. Cars are parked on the street in front of the building, and people walk on the sidewalk.

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#7 Site excavation for the Pritchard Building, 1958

Site excavation for the Pritchard Building, 1958

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#8 Sketch of the Pritchard Building, 1958

Sketch of the Pritchard Building, 1958

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#9 Tivoli Fountain and Legislative Building, 1954

Tivoli Fountain and Legislative Building, 1954

The Legislative Building is visible behind them.

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#10 View of the Insurance Building and Legislative dome, 1956

View of the Insurance Building and Legislative dome, 1956

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#11 Aberdeen YMCA delegation in House chamber, 1953

Aberdeen YMCA delegation in House chamber, 1953

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#12 Centennial Parade, Olympia, 1950

Centennial Parade, Olympia, 1950

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#13 Christmas tree in the Legislative Building rotunda, 1959

Christmas tree in the Legislative Building rotunda, 1959

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#14 Construction of Interstate 5, Olympia, 1956

Construction of Interstate 5, Olympia, 1956

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#15 Deschutes Dam construction, 1950

Deschutes Dam construction, 1950

Includes Capitol dome with lantern repair work and Capitol Lake in background.

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#16 Deschutes Parkway, 1958

Deschutes Parkway, 1958

Shows a man pointing out a culvert with water flowing through it, under railroad tracks. Deschutes Parkway construction, April 14, 1958.

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#17 Deschutes Dam construction, 1950

Deschutes Dam construction, 1950

Includes Capitol dome with lantern repair work and Capitol Lake in background.

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#18 General Administration Building, 1955

General Administration Building, 1955

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#19 General Administration Building, ground clearing, 1954

General Administration Building, ground clearing, 1954

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#20 Exterior of the Governor’s Mansion, located in Olympia, Washington, 1958

Exterior of the Governor's Mansion, located in Olympia, Washington, 1958

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#21 House and pumphouse at McAllister Springs, 1956

House and pumphouse at McAllister Springs, 1956

Photograph of McAllister Springs, 2345 Old Pacific Highway, Olympia, WA, with house in the foreground. According to the Thruston County Assessor's Office a house was built on the land in 1956 and another in 1979.

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#22 Olympia Yacht Club with ships in background, 1955

Olympia Yacht Club with ships in background, 1955

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#23 State Library exteriors, 1959

State Library exteriors, 1959

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#24 Thurston County Courthouse, Olympia, 1950

Thurston County Courthouse, Olympia, 1950

Designed by local architect Joseph Wohleb, it has elements of modern Art Deco and of a classic Greek temple. Sandstone for the exterior was quarried locally at Tenino; interior corridors are lined with Alaskan marble, which matches the marble used in the halls of nearby State Capitol.

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#25 Tivoli Fountain at night, 1955

Tivoli Fountain at night, 1955

It was completed in 1953 and modeled after a fountain built during the Renaissance and located in the Italian town of Tivoli. It has a diameter of 50 feet snd shoots water 25 feet into the air. In the background is the legislative building illuminated.

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#26 Vista House, Mt. Spokane, 1950

Vista House, Mt. Spokane, 1950

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#27 Dedication ceremony for Peter G. Schmidt memorial plaque with sculptor John W. Elliott at microphone, Olympia Brewing Company, 1958

Dedication ceremony for Peter G. Schmidt memorial plaque with sculptor John W. Elliott at microphone, Olympia Brewing Company, 1958

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#28 Northeast view of Tivoli Fountain, Insurance Building, and Legislative Building, Washington State Capitol group, Olympia, 1955

Northeast view of Tivoli Fountain, Insurance Building, and Legislative Building, Washington State Capitol group, Olympia, 1955

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#29 Olympia Centennial Parade, 1950

Olympia Centennial Parade, 1950

With the exception of one adult, this segment of the parade is all children. Two children are pulling a Radio Special wagon, upon which is mounted a "covered wagon" painted Olympia 1880 (sic), and Olympia or Bust. A small child is in the wagon. Behind the wagon are boys and girls in cowboy and pioneer costumes, with another similar covered wagon behind it. Following them are more children in period costumes and an adult in period costume. The adult's hat is flying off. Behind the participants are spectators.

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#30 Olympia Centennial Parade, 1950

Olympia Centennial Parade, 1950

This photograph features a float for Olympus Ice Cream. It is covered in a shiny material, with a shiny cabin mounted on it and two large ice cream cones. Two young women dressed in period costumes are on the float. Behind the float can be seen an ox team pulling a wagon. Spectators line the street. Over the street are hung banners, three with vertical stripes and a fourth reading Olympia Centennial.

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#31 State Capitol, Olympia, 1950

State Capitol, Olympia, 1950

Cars are parked on a street by the building.

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#32 Kay’s Cafe, Olympia Hardware and Mottman Building, 1959

Kay's Cafe, Olympia Hardware and Mottman Building, 1959

We can see the Mottman Building, the Olympia Hardware Building with Kay's Cafe, and the corner of the Labor Temple building.

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#33 Corner Cupboard Grocery, 1023 Adams, Olympia, 1957

Corner Cupboard Grocery, 1023 Adams, Olympia, 1957

The entryway is at the corner of the building, with retractable awnings over display windows. To the left of the building is a residential structure. In the foreground is a paved street.

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#34 Boston Harbor school addition, 1950s

Boston Harbor school addition, 1950s

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#35 Boston Harbor school addition, Olympia, 1950s

Boston Harbor school addition, Olympia, 1950s

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#36 Moving United Churches manse, Olympia, 1951

Moving United Churches manse, Olympia, 1951

The home is two stories with sashed windows on both levels and a bay window on one side. The front porch has been removed. The house is raised off the ground and workers are under the around the house preparatory to the move. In the foreground is a paved road. Wooden beams extend down the road. A man is on the roof, with a ladder extending down to the eave line. A line worker is on a utility pole cutting utility lines that would be interfering with the move. This manse was located on Franklin Street adjacent to the old First Presbyterian Church building. The new United Churches of Olympia building was erected that year.

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#37 Time capsule dedication ceremonious, 1953

Time capsule dedication ceremonious, 1953

photographic print mounted in oversized scrapbook, group of people (including men, women and children) witness the dedication of a large time capsule in celebration of the 100-year Washington Territorial Centennial, November 11, 1953. Chapin Foster speaks at the outdoor podium and Governor Arthur B. Langlie stands in the center next to the capsule. A shovel and fork lift are visible.

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Written by Aung Budhh

Husband + Father + librarian + Poet + Traveler + Proud Buddhist. I love you with the breath, the smiles and the tears of all my life.

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