Guide to the Wahl's Department Store Records

Print this Finding Aid | Email this Finding Aid


Overview of the Collection

Creator: Wahl's Department Store
Title: Wahl's Department Store Records
Dates: 1900-1982 ( inclusive )
1944-1969 ( bulk )
Quantity: 12 linear feet
Collection Number: XOE_CPNWS0046wahlstore
Summary: This collection of materials reflects eighty-two years of the Wahl family-operated department store in Bellingham, Washington. While bound volumes of advertisements from the Bellingham Herald comprise a large portion of the collection, other materials include financial records, administrative records, real estate records, clippings, and correspondence.
Repository: Western Washington University, Heritage Resources
Contact Information: Center for Pacific Northwest Studies
Goltz-Murray Building
808 25th St
Bellingham, WA
Telephone: 360-650-7747
Languages: Collection materials are in English. 
Sponsor: Funding for preparing this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Funding for encoding the finding aid was awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Historical Note

Wahl's department store, located in downtown Bellingham, Washington, was owned and operated by the Wahl family from 1913 to 1972. Constructed by J.J. Donovan in 1913, Wahl's department store building was bought by J.B. Wahl that year and used as a dry goods store. After J.B. Wahl died in 1937, his son Ralph E. Wahl assumed management until his retirement in 1971. Ralph E. Wahl considered himself more of a fisherman/photographer than a businessman, and is known for his photography of the Bellingham area.

In addition to owning the department store, the Wahl family also owned the Grand Theatre housed in the same building complex. Purchased by the National Bank of Commerce in 1972, the department store and Grand Theatre were demolished two years later to be remodeled into a new National Bank of Commerce office.

Content Description

The Wahl's Department Store records span the years 1900 to 1982. The bulk of the collection consists of twelve bound volumes of department store advertisements from the Bellingham Herald dating from September 1944 to August 1969. The Wahl's Department Store collection also includes administrative, financial, and real estate records as well as clippings and other printed matter. Real estate records document the acquisition and ownership of the department store and Grand Theatre by lot number. The real estate records also include hand-drawn floor plans and demolition photos of the store and the Grand Theatre.

The collection's administrative records consist of incoming and outgoing correspondence to and from customers, associates, and Wahl family members. Included in the correspondence materials is a letter from A Mother’s Club of Bellingham to the Wahl Department Store about a Japanese man in their employ, written in 1942.

Financial records contain invoices, company day books, bills of sale, and inventories of damage costs due to a fire that occurred in the department store in 1910.

Use of the Collection

Restrictions on Access :  

This collection is open to the public.

Preferred Citation :  

Wahl's Department Store Records, Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, Heritage Resources, Western Washington University, Bellingham WA 98225-9123.

Administrative Information

Arrangement :

The Wahl's Department Store records are organized according to the following series arrangement:

  • Series 1: Administrative and Financial Records 1900-1967
  • Series 2: General Real Estate 1924-1982
  • Series 3: Clippings and Printed Matter 1905-1974
Custodial History :  

Edward J. Wahl, Terence R. Wahl, and Richard E. Wahl donated the Wahl's Department Store records to the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies in 1997.

Processing Note :  

Collection processed by Caitlan Maxwell.

Related Materials :  

The Ralph E. Wahl Photographs and Papers are also housed at the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies at Western Washington University.

Detailed Description of the Collection

The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.

Series 1:  Administrative and Financial Records, 1900-1967

Administrative correspondence includes a 1942 letter from A Mother’s Club to Wahl's department store concerning a Japanese employee.

Subseries 1: Administrative 1900-1967
1/1 Correspondence 1900-1967
Subseries 2: Financial 1904-1918
1/2 Company day books October 1904- December 1909, ; January 1910-May 1915
1/3 Invoices and bill of sale 1905-1918
1/4 Estimation of Wahl's department store fire damage costs 1910

^ Return to Top

Series 2:  General Real Estate, 1924-1982
Subseries 1: Wahl's department store and Grand Theatre Lots 1924-1982
1/5 Plat map of downtown Bellingham (denotes Wahl holdings) 1948
1/6 Real estate contracts, Lot 1, 2, 3 Block 24 1928, ; 1933
1/7 Warranty deed, Lot 1, 2, 3 B 24 October 1, 1936
1/8 Release of mortgage, Lot 1, 2, 3 B 24 1924-1939
1/9 Abstract of title, Lot 1, 2, 3, B 24 1940
1/10 Mortgage payments, and release of mortgage, Lot 1, 2, 3 B 24 1933-1946
1/11 Grand Theater records, Lot 3, B 24 1924-1958
1/12 Warranty deeds, and title insurance policy, Lot 5, 6 B 24 1949, ; 1951
1/13 Real estate contract, warranty deed, bill of sale, and title insurance policy Lot 9, Block 19; and Lots 7 and 8, Block 24 1953-1954
Oversize Folder
1 Wahl’s house and department store demolition photos 1974-1982
Oversize Folder
1 Wahl’s department store and Grand Theatre hand-drawn floor plans 1956-1968

^ Return to Top

Series 3:  Clippings and Printed Matter, 1905-1974
1/14 Wahl's department store advertisements 1905-1966
1/15 Front page of Bellingham Herald, End of WWI 1918 November 11
1/16 Wahl's department store ephemera 1924, ; 1929
1/17 Wahl family and department store clippings 1954-1974
1/18 Speech: Ralph Wahl 1950
Subseries 1: Scrapbooks 1944-1969
1 Scrapbook 1944 September- 1948 January
2 Scrapbook 1948 February - 1950 October
3 Scrapbook 1950 October - 1953 May
4 Scrapbook 1953 May - 1955 April
5 Scrapbook 1955 April - 1956 March
6 Scrapbook 1956 April - December
7 Scrapbook 1957 January - 1958 May
8 Scrapbook 1958 June - 1960 February
9 Scrapbook 1960 March - 1961 November
10 Scrapbook 1961 December- 1963 December
11 Scrapbook 1964 January - 1966 April
12 Scrapbook 1966 May - 1969 August

^ Return to Top


This collection is indexed under the following headings in the online catalog. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

  • Corporate Names :
  • Grand Theatre (Bellingham, Wash.)  ( creator)
  • Wahl, Ralph.
  • Wahl's (Firm).  ( creator)
  • Subject Terms :
  • Business enterprises -- Washington (State) -- Bellingham -- History -- Sources.
  • Department stores -- Washington (State) -- Bellingham -- History -- Sources.
  • Japanese Americans -- Washington (State) -- Bellingham --History --Sources.
  • Retail trade -- United States -- Washington (State) -- Bellingham -- History --Sources.
  • Sales promotion -- Washington (State) -- Bellingham -- History -- Sources.
  • Theaters -- Washington (State) --Bellingham --History --Sources.
  • Geographical Names :
  • Bellingham (Wash.) -- History -- Sources.

    ^ Return to Top