PEMCO shop once housed champion hydros

Civic history buffs and hydro geeks take note: I’ve confirmed that famous hydroplanes of the past once called PEMCO home.
   A PEMCO storage building, that is. What’s more, that building also housed the offices of M. Lamont “Monte” Bean, president and chairman of Pay‘n Save Corporation.
   Besides the huge chain of Pay‘n Save drug stores, Bean’s retail empire included Ernst Hardware, Malmo Nursery, and Rhodes (later Lamonts) department stores. His offices filled the upstairs floor above what used to be a boat shop. City records show the 6,560-square-foot structure was built in 1953.
   I wanted to document all of this before PEMCO’s property changes hands. The building, at 400 Minor Ave. N. in the Cascade neighborhood of Seattle, was part of the December 2014 sale of PEMCO’s current Eastlake Avenue headquarters. We’re slated to move a short distance across town this fall.
   I’d heard from hydro old-timers that some of the sport’s most-revered boats were based in our building before we bought it. Bean sponsored the Miss Pay‘n Save, which won the 1959 Apple Cup on Lake Chelan.
   Miss Pay'n Save's home base was a boat shop at 140th and Aurora Ave. N. in Seattle. I've yet to determine if the team relocated to Minor Avenue. But for sure, a Pay'n Save sign adorned the building while Monte Bean's offices were there.
   Miss Pay'n Save was bought by Milo and Glen Stoen of Seattle and renamed Miss Seattle Too, and it won the 1960 Diamond Cup on Lake Coeur d’Alene. Sadly, Seattle Too is better known for disintegrating into a thousand pieces during the 1962 Gold Cup on Lake Washington, a crash captured on TV and by renowned photographer Bob Carver.
   Seattle Too’s carcass was salvaged and brought to the Minor Avenue shop. And inside that shop, the Stoen brothers’ replacement hull was built.
   Miss Exide was completed in June 1963. Like previous tenants, the hydro barely squeezed through the roll-up door when it was pulled outside. The crew parked it alongside the curb below Monte Bean’s office window and trailer-fired it for the first time. Crew members recall the thunderous Rolls-Merlin engine rattling windows. An alarmed Bean reportedly hustled downstairs and barked at Exide’s crew chief, “Dammit, George, my coffee cup is vibrating on my desk!”
   Like its predecessor, Miss Exide disintegrated while racing. Czech freedom flier Mira Slovak was at the wheel, battling Bill Muncey for the Diamond Cup at Coeur d’Alene when it blew apart and sank. Also like Seattle Too before it, Exide was towed home to Seattle where the crew backed its shattered remains inside the Minor Avenue shop. (Thanks to Mike Stoen of Lynnwood for sharing his photos.)
   But the winningest hydro to call Minor Avenue home was the Hawaii Kai III, Edgar Kaiser’s national champion and Gold Cup winner. In late November 1957, the Kai was trailered from its shop to Sand Point Naval Air Station, where driver Jack Regas broke the world straightaway record, averaging 187.627 mph over a measured mile on Lake Washington.
   I could find no old photos of Hawaii Kai taken at the PEMCO building, but this past weekend I watched an old color film documenting the Kai’s 1957 record run. And there, on film, is the pink speedster being towed out of 400 Minor Avenue North. I captured this screen shot for proof.
   Even more intriguing, in front of the shop sits a two-tone 1955 Buick Special – identical to my dad’s car at the time.
   My dad, sister, and brother spent that 1957 day at Lake Washington witnessing Hawaii Kai’s record run. Might dad have stopped by the boat shop beforehand for a look around?
   Dad passed away in 2002, so I may never know. But I do know for certain now that for many years, PEMCO owned a boat shop that’s part of hydro history.

   (Left: Monte Bean, in white cap, poses in the hydro that carried his drug stores' moniker, 1958.)

by  Jon Osterberg

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