Olympia’s fabulous waterfront restaurant: The Jacaranda

AOn Easter 1972, crowds at Jacaranda could enjoy a brunch buffet featuring smoked pork chops and applesauce, fresh homemade pastries, fresh fruit, salads, pudding, and juice for $2.50 ($1.75 for kids). Workers decorated the buffet table with holiday-themed ice sculptures, including a giant bunny. Those who opted for dinner could choose between roasted meat and seafood.

Located at 1535 North Washington Street next to KGY radio station on leased lot Port of Olympiathe Jacaranda — also known as Stefan’s, Ebb Tide Inn, and Genoa’s over the years — was a local landmark from its opening in the 1960s until it closed in 2002.

The Jacaranda Building began as a space age exhibit at the Century 21 Exposition in Seattle. At this world exhibition everything revolved around the future. The Douglas Fir Plywood Association sponsored a “Plywood Home of the Living Light” designed to showcase the possibilities of plywood construction.

After the exhibition ended, most of the buildings were demolished. However, a group of Olympia businessmen under President Charles Ford formed Jacaranda, Inc. and had the “Plywood Home” stormed to Olympia. They turned half of the “Home” into a restaurant on the port of Olympia. (The other part was made into the Capitol City Golf Clubs clubhouse which was later demolished.)

Named after the tropical Latin American flower and a restaurant in Mexico, the Jacaranda opened on Monday April 4, 1964. It billed itself as “Olympia’s fabulous waterfront restaurant” and promised “the best food on the waterfront”.

Jacaranda Story 1968 Olympia Airport
The Jacaranda can be seen in the lower left corner of this 1968 aerial view of Olympia Harbour. Photo Courtesy: Port of Olympia

The Daily Olympian offered an enthusiastic description of the restaurant on the Friday before it opened. A jacaranda tree greeted guests at the door. “The House of Living Light forms the front half of the restaurant,” the newspaper explained. “…Three of the [high half-] “Domed rooms” of the original house “are part of the Jacaranda. One room houses the café. A second is a private dining room. And the last one has become a ladies’ room…” The main dining room was added at the back of the building and featured avocado-colored carpet and panoramic views of the waterfront and the Olympic Mountains. “From any seat in the main room,” the article promised, “there is a clear view of Budd Inlet.” The restaurant was decorated in soft tones of green, brown and blue. An outdoor walkway surrounding the main dining room allowed visitors to enjoy the fresh sea air.

The restaurant attracted attention because it offers upscale cuisine at moderate prices. AAA even gave it its seal of approval. A menu preserved in the University of the Washington’s special collections states that all meat was cooked with vegetable fat and that customers arriving by boat could dock free of charge. However, the restaurant was perhaps most famous for its Sunday morning breakfast buffet. It costs $2.50 per adult and $1.50 per child.

The restaurant was also known for its live music and entertainment. Groups included The Trends, Lucas & Torrence, Patti Summers and the Sound Co., Stormy Weather, Johnny Lewis Trio, The Swinging Two, The Knockouts and Ken Olendorf. They usually played straight for a week.

Jacaranda History Home of the Living Light Worlds Fair
The home of living light (right) at the Seattle World’s Fair. Photo Courtesy: Seattle Public Library

Still, the Jacaranda had its share of problems. Shortly after opening, the restaurant went bankrupt. In 1966 it was reopened under new management. The new managers added a new lounge with bar and dance area. The restaurant was purchased by Stefan Holmquist, who renamed it Stefan’s On Budd Inlet in September 1977. However, Stefan’s was short-lived. The restaurant was closed after the Department of Ecology discovered raw sewage entering Puget Sound. The restaurant denied the allegations.

In 1980 Mark Silversten bought the restaurant and renamed it the Ebb Tide Inn on Budd Inlet. They added a mesquite charcoal grill in 1984 to cook steaks and seafood. In 1991, the restaurant changed its name again to Genoa’s on the Bay. Ringing in the New Year at a Millennium Party in 2000, nibbling on special foods and dancing to live entertainment, little would you have guessed that the restaurant was in its last few years.

In the early morning of November 7, 2002, a torch used to brown desserts caused a kitchen fire. Although the damage initially seemed limited and the owners promised it would reopen soon, they did not and the building was demolished. In 2007 it was replaced by a new restaurantAnthony’s Hearthfire Grillwhich continues the association of the place with fine dining.

Jacaranda History Olympia Postcard
The Jacaranda featured in this undated postcard featured a grand dining room and the Billy Budd cocktail lounge. Copyright: Jennifer Crooks

From the beginning, the restaurant served as a community center. It hosted wedding receptions in their private banquet rooms and countless people celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions there. The restaurant was also a popular meeting place for clubs and other organizations. For example the Olympia Chamber of Commerce held breakfast meetings there for many years. In fact, 75 of them had gathered in the Jacaranda on the morning of April 29, 1965, when a severe earthquake struck the region.

The restaurant also sought to support and empower local community groups capital Lakefairthe Pet Parade—they bid $5.00 for the best-dressed captain’s costume in 1968—and held fundraisers for organizations like the Muscular Dystrophy Society and easter seal. The restaurant also hosted style shows and art exhibitions. Local artists exhibited their works there.

Regardless of its name – Jacaranda, Stefan’s, Ebb Tide Inn or Genoa’s – the Olympia Harbor restaurant was a local favorite and left a long legacy of fine dining that is continued by Anthony’s Hearthfire Grill.

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