The last loaf of bread came off the former Wonder Bread bakery decades ago, but plans for the factory are on the rise after years or falling flat.

The former Wonder Bread bakery sits near the high-traffic corner of Sprague and Sixth avenues. It dates back more than a century and turned out loafs of bread by the hundreds for generations. The ovens turned on for the first time in 1913 as the maker of Mathaesi and Holsum breads, and the bakery was touted by newspapers as rivaling any commercial bakery on the West Coast. The bakery changed names to the Continental Baking Co. in 1929 and then landed a deal to bake Wonder Bread.

Tacoma Wonder Bread Factory
By the end of 1920 the Matthaei Bread Co., at 703 South Sprague Ave. had five White trucks and five “Dodge Brothers motor cars” in its fleet of delivery vehicles. Photo courtesy: Tacoma Public Library

Modern readers should keep in mind that the commercialization of bread making was a relatively new concept during the turn of the last century. Tacoma had dozens of neighborhood bakeries and just a handful of large bread making operations that filled the shelves of another relatively new business – that of a full-service grocery store. The Wonder Bread facility’s largest rival was the Roman Meal Co. plant on South Tacoma Way. It was built in 1927 after Dr. Robert George Jackson developed his whole-grain recipe that unlocked “the secret of Ancient Rome.” The brand would go national in the 1940s thanks to the slogan of “So good tasting and so good for your figure.” People could even write to the company for a diet plan based on the bread’s mix of rye, white, whole wheat and bran that would feed into the diet trend and ran counter to Wonder Bread’s good but inexpensive branding.

The two-story bakery produced Wonder Bread loaves by the thousands each day to be then delivered to area grocery stores. This continued until 2008, but since then the factory has been vacant after plans to demolish it to make way for a strip mall never came to pass. For sale signs popped up in early 2018, prompting worries by historically minded folks that the building would be torn down to make way for commercial spaces.

Wonder Bread Bakery
The facility became the Continental Baking Co. and produced Wonder Bread loaves by the thousands for decades. Photo courtesy: Tacoma Public Library

Those worries lead to Josef Barlow-Farrar starting a GoFundMe in hopes of raising awareness about the 36,000-square-foot bakery’s history and maybe enough seed money to help some community-minded programs for artists and after school efforts. That effort fell flat after only gaining a few hundred dollars in pledges before news of the former bakery’s sale came months later.

“We have ended our campaign for the time being and are no longer accepting donations,” Barlow-Farrar stated. “But on the bright side, [the building] hasn’t been demolished.”

Bellevue-based Clover Capital has finalized a $1.025 million deal to buy the building, but has not announced what plans it has for the former bakery.

“We’re excited about the Hostess building,” Clover Capital Principal Neal Mulnick stated. “We have deep roots to Tacoma and love the location and area. We don’t have an immediate use in mind, but our plans are to work with the city and community to find a positive use for the building.”

A structural analysis of the building that Artifacts Consulting did for a nonprofit that ultimately walked away from an earlier deal provides a glimpse of what might be possible. The site has limited parking since the building takes up most of the property, but the building itself is in relatively solid condition since it was built to handle the heavy ovens and equipment used by an industrial-sized bakery. That means micro apartments, offices or lofts aren’t out of the realm of possibility.

Former Wonder Bread Factory
The plant went cold in 2008 and remained vacant for more than a decade but is now primed for redevelopment. Photo credit: Steve Dunkelberger
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