Island Senior: Memories of lower Spring Street
Posted May 3, 2022 at 1:38 pm by Peggy Sue McRae
Friday Harbor suffered a great loss recently when fire took some of our most cherished historic buildings, shockingly gone overnight. While we reach out to help those whose lives and livelihoods were irrevocably impacted by the loss, once again, whether we want to or not, we face the persistent life lesson of the inevitability of change.
As an old-timer, I’d like to share a glimpse into my own memories of the other side of lower Spring Street, a streetscape already relegated to memory. Whether by fire or by the relentless crush of development we have lost a great deal over the years. In my lifetime this whole side of lower Spring Street has changed entirely.
Join me then to revisit the location of my first real job at the Friday Harbor Cafe that in the late 1960s sat right smack-dab in the middle of that block. Scribner’s Market (later Whitey’s) was on the upper corner and below was the Lower Tavern and Moose Lodge.
As a teenager it took some courage to pound the pavement but I was hired for the summer and returned the following summers throughout my high school years. Esther Hillberg, the owner and cook, was famous for her sourdough bread. I remember her punching down her dough and slapping it while fellow waitress Donna Grossarth and I thought it was hilarious to cry out from the kitchen, “Esther! Stop hitting us!”
I worked the breakfast shift and my first job in the morning was to feed the alley cats out back. The cafe had booths on one side, a few tables, and a horseshoe counter where local guys would hang out drinking coffee.
The walls were decorated with fishnet and fishing floats, driftwood, photos of fishing boats, and eventually my own high school senior photo was added to a collection of other such distinguished employees.
As we regroup and rebuild after the recent fire, lower Spring Street will continue to change. What I hope lingers from our past is a spirit of generosity, warmth, and friendliness, a hardy resourcefulness and genuine authenticity.
Photo credit: The Friday Harbor Cafe (1970), courtesy of The San Juan Historical Museum
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