Deep Dive: Hawthorne Safeway & The Lost Optimism of Grocery Store Modern

The Safeway on Hawthorne at 28th is pictured here in 1975 with an eerily vacant lot. Though it was a crappy due to poor management and ham-fisted renovations, the building had interesting roots from an architectural perspective.

Beyond the broad expanse of oil stained macadam and poor selection, this 33,000 sq ft store had the distinction of being one of the last “Marina prototype” store designs in the metro area still held by Safeway. So named for the 1959 debut location on Marina Blvd in San Francisco, this groundbreaking prototype had three variants but all featured a distinctive serpentine roof carried by soaring glulams. This afforded a voluminous sales floor almost entirely absent of columns. The exuberantly modern design made the brand a standout among the monotony of grocers, with a bank of tall plate-glass windows fronting the street, flanked by twin entrances against a masonry core. A tragically butchered example still survives in Lake Oswego and there are several which have been converted to other uses like Hong Phat Food Center on 82nd at Burnside. Some communities have even sought historic preservation for these threatened buildings but they hardly stand a chance in the face of impatient corporations and developers attracted to the acres of parking on which they stand. I should also note Safeway did remodel a Marina at their MLK Jr. Blvd. location but with pretty sad results. They basically crammed their current design typology, “Lifestyles”, into the space with little to no accommodation for the unique opportunities afforded the dramatic 25′ ceiling.

By the early 1970s, Safeway began to move away from its modernist designs as stores were increasingly embedded in shopping centers and residential neighborhoods. Safeway like McDonald’s, chose bland, innocuous designs and retail architecture entered a nondescript era.

Prominent LA. architectural historian Alan Hess had this to say about a similar location,

“Safeway’s prototype exemplifies how businesses, as good corporate citizens and neighbors, invested in good architecture for buildings that were part of the daily life of millions.”


Sadly, the 55,000 sq ft building which  replaced the one on Hawthorne is an ill conceived festival of schmaltz rendered in stucco and styrofoam. Ironically, it was not Safeway but Target which recognized and preserved the inherent greatness of a Marina and gives us a sense of what the Hawthorne store might have been in more inspired hands. At an old marina in San Diego, Target beautifully reimagined and celebrated the iconic roofline and modern aesthetic as an innovative Target Express neighborhood convenience grocery store. Fitting that a retailer on the make would take inspiration from cast offs of the once innovative Safeway as that company cedes its dominance and retreats into pat historicism.

Editors note: If this sort of thing turns your crank you should check out the excellent site Groceteria.com and specifically their far more exhaustive history of Safeway here. The fantastic site Pleasant Family Shopping  chronicles the history of retail design and is also a fun way to waste a few days!

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2 thoughts on “Deep Dive: Hawthorne Safeway & The Lost Optimism of Grocery Store Modern

  1. I lived on Portland from 1963-1979, and within the metro area until 2009. Though my first experience with a “super store” was Woodstock’s Discomart, after moving to Laurelhurst, these Safeway stores were large part of my Portland experience. I shared a downtown store with the wearers in red during the Bahgwan years. Didn’t some of Portland’s Safeways also have some mosaic murals-so sad this art were also lost when the stores were demolished. I loved the information about the architecture and the glimpse of the Portland I knew back then.

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    • Yeah it’s really sad how uninspiring without charm today’s grocery stores have become. I don’t know of any other murals besides the Lake O one in the Portland Metro. Perhaps some other murals are also buried behind false walls. I’ve never heard of Discomart – what was it?

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