Steve Shay
Proud landlord, and noted rare book dealer, Taylor Bowie, in front of his Market Street building.

Market Street's Murphy Building turns 100

Not only is he a third generation Ballardite, he is a third generation “Mitchell Taylor Bowie,” pronounced like Colonel Bowie and his knife, not rocker, Ziggy Stardust. But the circles in which he moves, like the rare book world, and his tenants and pals, just call him Taylor Bowie.

He and his sister Lee Anne Bowie own the Murphy Building their grandfather purchased around World War II, on the corner of Market Street and 20th Avenue Northwest. The tidy, cream-colored three-story slice, or chunk rather, of Ballard history is a mammoth 24,000 square feet, including the basement, and turns 100 years-old this year.

He lives on the third floor that has nine other apartments. The second floor is rented by Northwest Archeological Associates, Inc., and the mezzanine unit by DCD Home Web Developement.

The Murphy building is home to three storefronts. They are occupied by John Michael Lang Fine Books, Ballard Time Shop clock repair, and, officially opening Saturday, March 14, the 4,300 square foot All The Best Pet Care. That shop will move in following major refurbishing, including enlarged windows, front doors and new tile entry.

Like the Murphy building itself, his “anchor store” space has seen some history, too.

“There was a grocery store in that space in the 1930’s, and Scandia Furniture in the 1950’s and 1960’s,” Bowie said, adding that most recently it had been Cascadia Financial.

“This is an early example of a mixed-use building, with a low-key design that doesn’t make it look dated,” said Bowie. “It looks pretty much as it did when it was built, although it once had an ugly cornice. My sister and I consider it part of our responsibility to the community and ourselves to keep it looking clean and fresh all the time. We have not been interested in altering its character.”

He credits his property manager Greg Siemens as playing a big role in its clean appearance, including keeping the graffiti off.

“My grandfather came from Waco, Texas to Seattle to see the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909 and then wired home for his things. I think he saw Seattle as a place with all sorts of opportunity. I wished I’d known him better. He went into a partnership and started Bowie Electric, which is still here, on Market Street. He invested in Ballard real estate in the 1930’s, and bought the building at 5348 Ballard Ave. where his electric company started. You can still see his stained glass sign above the front door. He lived above the shop with his family, including my father.”

That storefront is now occupied by duque (with a small “d”) Wellness Spa and Salon, and the living space above has been modernized.

In addition to being known as the conscientious landlord, Bowie may be best known around Seattle, and nationwide, for his rare book businesses. He opened a shop in 1976 on Pike Street where a portion of the Washington State Convention and Trade Center now sits. He moved to 5th Avenue just south of Denny Way, then to a big shop in Pioneer Square near Elliott Bay Books.

That shop began as a partnership, called Bowie & (Richard) Weatherford Booksellers, then just Bowie ran it. In 1999 he left the shop and worked three years for Alibris, the online book company.

“Now I do a little bit of everything,” he said. He still collects books, and works with John Lang in his book shop.

“Taylor is my consultant and advisor,” said Ballard resident, Lang in his cozy but spacious shop on 20th Avenue. “The greatest misnomer in our business is that you have to be wealthy to be a book collector. Untrue. You can build a great collection with a small amount of money.”

Lang advises collectors, “Buy books you like and enjoy. Don’t choose certain books just because you think they may go up in value. If you buy wisely chances are you will do just fine with them as an investment,” he said.

One of the lessons learned from Bowie.

“I've known Taylor since high school,” said former Seattle Weekly editor, Knute “Skip” Berger, a.k.a. Mossback, who writes for and just released his book “Pugetopolis."

Both attended Lakeside School with Bill Gates.

“I bought many books from Taylor over the years. His bookstore was for many years the best one in town. He's a brilliant man, a fabulous book dealer, with an encyclopedic memory of Seattle political history, among other categories. Taylor is one of my favorite people," said Berger.

“We have rented from Taylor for just over a year and we love it here,” said Donna Boyett who owns Ballard Time Shop with her husband, Bryan. It is located one door south of Lang Books, and directly across the street from its former location.

Added her 6-and-a-half foot tall spouse, “Taylor’s nice, a good guy like his dad, who used to drive around town in his black 1964 Thunderbird. He’d go down to the corner there (20th and Russell) for coffee at Rose’s Hasty Tasty. It was kind of his ritual.”

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Taylor is an incredible wealth of antiquarian book knowledge, besides being one of the nicest guys I know.