The John Joseph Tobin Building  #1–

The Safeway Store


115 N Molalla Avenue


By Gail J. McCormick

The John Joseph Tobin Building  #1 is located at 115 North Molalla Avenue in Molalla, Oregon.  The architecture is 20th Century Commercial.  John Joseph Tobin, known as J. J. Tobin, purchased the land for this building from Harvey Everhart in 1912.  J. J. never lived in Molalla but often visited here.  He liked to socialize with the old timers who often took him hunting and fishing.  J. J. also was a land speculator.  Over the years he purchased a variety of properties, sometimes holding them for years.  The thought of a new building on this spot caused quite a fuss in Molalla, as it meant that Grace Sailor's popular Busy Corner Restaurant would have to be torn down.  People were worried that visitors would not recognize Molalla without Grace's Restaurant, which had served the community for twenty years.  Eventually, Grace was able to relocate her restaurant in the new building.


The Safeway Store

On June 19, 1937, the Molalla Pioneer announced that "J. J. Tobin of Newport, owner of the northwest corner of North Molalla Avenue and West Main Street, has signed a contract for a concrete building 80 x 64 feet to be erected upon the corner.  In addition, a second building will be tied into the first on Main Street, to be used by the Lyric Theatre when completed. "


E. V. Harper, a former Portland contractor, who retired to Colton, was chosen to construct the building.   Work began on July 5, 1937, when the wrecking crew started pulling down the old Busy Corner Restaurant.  Work was completed September 20, 1937.  By this time, it had been publicized that Safeway would be moving from the Bowlin Building (today the White Horse Restaurant), into the new building.  A new type of construction was used that did away with all posts in the large storeroom.  More than 300 barrels of cement furnished by Oregon Portland Cement Company of Lake Oswego were used.  Inside, forty three sections with 525 feet of shelving ran along the north, south and back walls.  The shelving was painted white with black trim.  This building faces North Molalla Avenue and, today, holds the Cashco and Lui’s Palace Restaurant businesses.  The Safeway Company left Molalla in 1953 and returned 50 years later to its present location.  Many locals have mentioned to me the Bus Depot Cafe that operated from this location years ago.  Also, fondly remembered, is Mary's Cafe which started up in 1946, with home cooked meals by the proprietor, Mary L. Zuber.


J. J. Tobin

John Joseph Tobin was born in Poquonock, Connecticut, in 1878.  His parents were John Tobin and Elizabeth A. Powers.  The father immigrated from Ireland in 1860.  J. J. married Jennie M. Olsen, in 1904.  She was born in 1874, in England.  At the age of nine, her parents immigrated to Connecticut.     The couple met at the local woolen mill where they both worked.  During the 1907 depression, the woolen mill closed down.  The Tobins’ moved west and settled in Oregon City.  They had two children: John Jr. and Mae.


In 1907, at the age of 29, J. J. took over the operation of the three story Electric Hotel at 411 Main Street in Oregon City.  It was the leading hostelry in Oregon City.  Both J. J. and Jennie worked long hours to make the hotel successful.  They first leased the building and, later, purchased it.  The hotel specialized in accommodating traveling sales people, including providing large rooms to hold their sales samples.  They advertised "meals at all hours and rooms at 25 cents and up".  J. J. and Jennie were both active in the social life at Oregon City, where J. J. also served as an Oregon City councilman.  The Electric Hotel was demolished in 1980.


In 1925, J. J. and Jennie leased out the Electric Hotel and moved to Newport, Oregon.  There they purchased the Abbey Hotel and Restaurant.  J. J. successfully operated this hotel for almost twenty years.  In Newport, he also served three terms as Mayor and, in 1935, became a member of the Oregon State legislature.


Jennie passed away in 1937, at Newport.  J. J. passed away in 1945, at Oregon City.  Both are buried at Eureka Cemetery in Newport, Oregon.

For the John Joseph Tobin Building #2, please see the Lyric Theatre on West Main Street in Molalla.



Photo #1:  The John Joseph Tobin Building today.  It is located at 115 North Molalla Avenue.  The building is made of solid concrete and is in excellent condition.  Photo from the author’s collection.


Photo #2:  J. J. and Jennie Tobin.  Photo courtesy of the Lincoln County Historical Society at Newport, Oregon.


Photo #3:  An early drawing of the new Safeway Store.  Courtesy of the Molalla Pioneer, September 23, 1937.


Photo #4:  The Electric Hotel was the leading hostelry in Oregon City in the early 1900s.  J. J. and Jennie Tobin operated the hotel from 1907 to 1925.  Photo courtesy of the Wilmer Gardner Collection at the Museum of the Oregon Territory.



“Building Contractor E. V. Harper” Front page, Molalla Pioneer, September 23, 1937

“Electric Hotel & Restaurant, Ad, Oregon City Courier, March 6, 1907

“New Safeway Unit”, Front page, Molalla Pioneer, September 23, 1937

“Old Busy Corner”, Front page, Molalla Pioneer, September 23, 1937

“Old Landmark Will Be Razed”, Front page, Molalla Pioneer September 23, 1937

“Safeway & Lyric Theatre”, Molalla Self-Guided Walking Tour, by Judith Sanders Chapman & Lois E. Helvey Ray, 2009


@ Gail J. McCormick, 2018


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