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Columbia River Mercantile Department Store
As the general store of the Long-Bell Lumber Company, the Columbia River Mercantile was crucial to Longview’s original development. The building is located at the southwest corner of Broadway and Commerce Avenue, placing it at the heart of the intended business district and reinforcing its importance to the original city plan. Commerce Avenue was intended to be the main street of downtown Longview, and Broadway was intended to be the ceremonial axis connecting the civic center with the railroad passenger station. At two stories with a mezzanine, the design exemplified the type of commercial architecture that was expected in the downtown section.
Planning for “The Merk,” as the Columbia River Mercantile was colloquially known after the general store became a private department store, was underway before the end of 1922. Working drawings by John R. Nevins with Schack, Young and Myers were sufficiently complete in November to allow a general construction contract to be awarded to the Westlake Construction Company of St. Louis, which was also building the Hotel Monticello further to the west. When the Merk was completed in June 1923, it was the first commercial building completed in Longview and its block was the first to be filled with business buildings.
The Merk is a reinforced concrete structure with brick masonry exterior walls trimmed with terra-cotta. The building features a range of rectangular windows at the mezzanine and second-story levels suggesting the underlying frame, separated by a terra-cotta band featuring bound sheaves of wheat and roundels. In addition to being the first commercial structure completed in the downtown business district, it was also Longview’s headquarters for the Long-Bell Lumber Company. Given its importance, the building established a standard that many subsequent commercial buildings followed. It was also the largest commercial building in the business district.
In 1951, the Merk was acquired by the Seattle-based Bon Marche department store, which occupied the building until 1987, when it relocated to the suburban Three Rivers Mall near I-5. Beginning in 1988, a multi-year rehabilitation was initiated to restore its original appearance, as well as the resumption of “The Merk” as its name and continuing its role as a retail anchor for downtown Longview. It remains a commercial structure today, with retail space on the first floor and mezzanine and offices on the upper floor.
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