I have always called Seattle’s Dexter Avenue “Dextrose Avenue.” That’s in honor of one of its major attractions: the Hostess Bakery.
Since at least 1940, the beige, concrete building — with its streamlined, “moderne” curves — had been a mainstay of the originally industrial Cascade neighborhood (now the posh-ified and rechristened “South Lake Union”). It had its company name in big, red, backlit block letters visible from Aurora Avenue North.
(Similarly, its sister brand Wonder Bread had big neon letters up on East Yesler Way, drawing attention to Seattle’s least “whitebread” neighborhood. The sign now lives atop the apartment complex that replaced the Wonder plant.)
The Hostess building had a curved, grand entranceway at Aurora and Republican Street, though the doors were replaced with glass bricks some time after the factory stopped giving public tours. It had the company’s onetime logo, a silhouette of a lady’s face in profile within a heart, built into its exterior grilles. It had big, gas-tank-like intake tubes for corn syrup and confectioner’s sugar.
Day and night, it enveloped the surrounding environs with the glorious smells of sugar, flour, egg whites, chocolate, etc., being poured, mixed, baked and packaged. These smells could be smelled as far away as the School of Visual Concepts, up the next block.
At one time, they separated eggs and re-ground flour by hand — before the treats fully became the automated factory products they’d always appeared to be.
As a child during the early years of kids’ TV, I remember the live, local kids’ hosts performing commercials, with the big, cutaway props of Hostess Cup Cakes, Twinkies, Tiger Tails, etc. (My favorites were always the Sno Balls. Even at a tender age, two side-by-side, pink hemispheres meant something to me.)
Later on, after the FCC stopped local kids’ hosts from appearing in commercials (a move that essentially killed most of those shows), Hostess created animated, talking versions of its goodies: Twinkie the Kid, Captain Cup Cake, Fruit Pie the Magician. (Unlike Will Vinton’s later M&Ms spots, these ads never addressed the implications of these “baked” toons inviting you to eat their relatives.)
Hostess treats will probably be sold here again at some point (see below). But they probably won’t be made here anymore.
The big rift
In the days before the company shut down altogether, it announced the Seattle plant and two others would close, even if the company itself survived.
Management blamed an ongoing bakers’ strike. (However, the mayor of St. Louis, whose Hostess branch was also shuttered that week, said he’d been informed of the closings months before the strike.)
The strikers had refused the company’s demands for further wage and benefit cuts, after the company had already cut wages twice and ceased contributions to pension funds. (Top management, meanwhile, got massive salary hikes.) That was as part of a bankruptcy procedure, the company’s second in a decade. Hostess had been slowly dying for longer than that, under three different owners.
Too many parents in recent years demanded only “healthy” foods for their kids and demanded that food companies stop marketing “unhealthy” products to kids. In response, Hostess re-targeted its advertising at adults, with little success. It brought out new products that nobody bought then or remembers now.
And many, many newer snack-product brands emerged in recent years (local, regional and national).
(Also, let’s not forget the impact imposed on all consumer-products companies by Walmart. It regularly sets ever-smaller wholesale payments, which companies dare not challenge.)
Forever the Twinkie
Somebody will buy the company’s trademarks and other intellectual property. The better-known Hostess products will be made again, by somebody, somewhere.
That somwhere will almost certainly not be on Dexter — the land’s just too valuable. The factory is worth more dead than alive.
The Hostess site will surely be redeveloped, probably as a posh condo project.
A lot of these developments get named after the places they’d replaced. In this case, we should all demand the condo be christened “Twinkie Towers.”
Meanwhile, two local companies have offered tributes to Hostess. The Cupcake Royale chain had a Thanksgiving-weekend special offering, with variations on the classic chocolate cupcakes and Sno Balls. And Hot Cakes on Ballard Avenue Northwest will sell an all-organic version of the Ding Dong starting Dec. 15.
CLARK HUMPHREY is the author of “Walking Seattle” and “Vanishing Seattle.” He also writes a blog at miscmedia.com. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.