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Movers and shakers speak of their roles shaping Federal Way's history | Photos
When Phil Eichholtz scouted the Federal Way area 60 years ago, he saw a cluster of businesses along Pacific Highway South.
There was a service for nearly every need, including a grocery store and meat market across the street that sold everything from beef to appliances. There was a drug store and a hybrid post office that also sold books. He saw an electrical hardware store, an insurance company and three gas stations.
And a lumber store.
A Pennsylvania native, Eichholtz served as an officer in the Army Air Corps during World War II and became interested in merchandising, before transferring to Spokane, where he met his wife. While they were looking for a place to settle down, he turned to his father-in-law for advice, who was a representative of a lumber magazine and familiar with lumber yards and manufacturers.
“My father-in-law said, ‘Phil, if you’re interested in merchandising, you ought to get into the retail lumber business,’” recalled Eichholtz, 91, during an interview with the Historical Society of Federal Way in November of 2012 as part of an oral history project. “If there’s any organization that needs merchandising, that’s it. So I looked around and I could see that he was absolutely correct.”
He learned the lumber business “real quick” and in 1954 he settled in Federal Way, purchasing the lumber store and renaming it New Lumber and Hardware, which still operates today.
“I remember taking inventory on a Sunday and I saw what kind of a mess I got into and I said, ‘Eichholtz, what did you do? You made another big mistake,’” laughed Eichholtz, who died of cancer on Dec. 31, 2013 at the age of 92. “Anyway, it all worked out very well.”
Eichholtz was one of 10 notable locals that Historical Society members recently interviewed as part of an oral history project funded by the 4Culture organization.
“We wanted to catch early movers and shakers,” said Maureen Hathaway, project manager. “We missed two or three, who we were really interested in interviewing, because they passed away. But that was our idea, trying to get this information from people before they became ill … ”
“While they were still responsive and receptive and could still remember way back when,” added Diana Noble-Gulliford, who wrote a grant proposal for the project.
The first phase of the project included researching, interviewing, taping and transcribing.
The Historical Society is now looking for funding for the second phase of the project, which will include editing the video footage and distributing the final DVDs to libraries, schools and service groups. That could cost between $5,000-$10,000, says Noble-Gulliford.
In the meantime, the society’s board may consider to have the raw video footage available for the public in the future.
Project participants began the interview process in August 2012 and it took about 18 months to compile the oral histories.
“I think what amazed me about these people is that they happened to be at the right place at the right time,” said Noble-Gulliford. “Phil Eichholtz saw a need where this was going to be a growing community … and now they are in the third generation of Eichholtz being at the same lumber store. I just think in the early days of Federal Way, it provided opportunities for individuals and families to strike out on their own and become successful.”
During an interview with Roy Miller, who owned Miller’s Oil and Heating, she learned that he had a unique way of filling a need in Federal Way.
“He’d take a plane and fly over and take pictures of where the new developments would be and the foundations because those are the places where he would go next to see if they wanted oil delivery,” Noble-Gulliford said.
Interviewees ranged from early business owners and arts enthusiasts, to newsmakers, city officials and activists. They also gave glimpses of Federal Way before it became a city and after.
“We wanted to touch all aspects of Federal Way and part of it was availability,” said Noble-Gulliford of their interviewee selections.
The society’s interview with Rick Johnson, also known as “the mayor of Redondo,” gave them insight into Redondo, where Federal Way started, said Noble-Gulliford.
“He’s a retired railroader but he lives in the house he grew up in his whole life,” she noted. “The inside of his house is like a museum on Redondo. It’s incredible. He has captured and he’s still looking for things to capture Redondo’s history, postcards or memorabilia.”
Hathaway said early logging at Redondo was the “whole start of this area.”
Johnson spoke about the early history of Redondo, such as the bootlegging that occurred.
“Everything was by boat because there were no roads,” Hathaway said.
During the process, she said she learned interesting snippets of Federal Way’s history, from former Mayor Mary Gates’s work with the city to develop the city’s Police Department and City Hall, to Celebration Park, which had underground gas tanks used to fuel airplanes when it was formerly Evergreen Air Park.
The 10 interviews were done “on location,” and project participants tried to set the scene as accurately as they could to reflect the interviewees.
They interviewed Sharon Muncey, founder of Centerstage Theatre, at the Knutzen Theatre, where actors were performing “The Turn of the Screw.”
A community activist, Dave Kaplan was filmed in the very same seat in the Council chambers he has sat in for the past 20 years.
Other notable residents who were interviewed include Jim Chambers, who described his family’s history of logging in Federal Way; Marlene Beadle, owner of Marlene’s Market and Deli; and Jerry Robison, founder of the Federal Way News.
As for Eichholtz, he said during his interview he was proud to be a part of growth in Federal Way over the years, as many homes in the area were built using lumber and other material from his store.
He also said he was proud of his sons Jim and Bill, who currently operate the business. It is because of his sons that New Lumber and Hardware has survived as they grew up in Federal Way and know many people who have become their customers, he said.
Over the years, he has also watched as nearly a dozen lumber yards have shuttered as the “big box” stores have moved in to the area.
However, he said in a bigger store “it takes you a long time to get around to what the hell you want to do and parking may be a block away from the front door.”
And at small businesses, like New Lumber, you get face-to-face service.
“It may not be a good looking one, but it’s a face,” Eichholtz laughed.
A celebration of life for Phil Eichholtz will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 19 at the Village Green Retirement Campus in Federal Way. For more information about the Historical Society, visit www.federalwayhistory.org.
Phil Eichholtz, who owned New Lumber and Hardware before he died of cancer on Dec. 31, 2013, is interviewed at his business in November of 2012. Eichholtz’s sons currently operate the store, which has been in business since 1954 / Photos courtesy of Historical Society of Federal Way
Roy Miller is interviewed in front of a replica plane similar to those flying out of the former Evergreen Air Park, where he supplied oil.
Former Mayor Mary Gates is interviewed at her home as part of an oral history project.