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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Then and Now: The Polynesia restaurant

In 1961, David Cohn, of Seattle, built a new South Seas-themed restaurant on Pier 51 in Seattle. He called it The Polynesia. The Tiki bar fad was still popular. The roofline resembled the long houses of the South Pacific islands. A few years later, he constructed an identical restaurant above the Spokane Falls and opened Spokane’s own Polynesia in 1965.

The open-air deck, with views of the Spokane River, the middle falls and the Washington Water Power Upper Falls generating plant, was just a few feet from the Great Northern railroad trestle that brought trains to the GN depot. Diners agreed the roar and rumble of the passing trains seemed to enhance the dining experience, rather than detract from it.

But the Polynesia wasn’t the hit Cohn thought it would be. A year after opening, he leased the building to Stuart Anderson’s Black Angus Steakhouse chain. The new restaurant, without the South Seas touches, opened in November 1966. Anderson, a Seattle businessman, had founded the Black Angus chain in 1964, focusing on low prices and quick table turnover. The Black Angus chain sold to corporate ownership in 1972, but Anderson stayed with the company until the mid-1980s. The train tracks were removed for Expo ’74, and the restaurant was very busy during the world’s fair.

Anderson was the face of the company in advertising. He liked to say, “I’m kind of like a western Colonel Sanders.” He appeared at the Spokane restaurant in 1986 during its 20th anniversary.

In 1988, misfortune struck when two kitchen workers were diagnosed with hepatitis A. Public notices were posted, diners were told to get vaccinated and the restaurant closed for 18 days. Once it reopened, people began to trickle back. The steakhouse owners said their lease was up and they closed the restaurant in late 1988, though some thought the health scare was the reason. The building sat empty for several years.

After years of speculation and a costly remodel, Salty’s, a seafood restaurant, opened there in 1994. Reviews complained of poor service and occasionally poor food. It closed a few years later. The city of Spokane bought the site in 1997 for $2.78 million in preparation for a new Lincoln Street Bridge, which was never built. The city sold the building and land to Anthony’s, which had top restaurants in Seattle. The restaurant has been serving seafood and steaks at the location since 2004.

Stuart Anderson, whose chain had been reorganized and divided over the years, died Wednesday at the age of 93.

– Jesse Tinsley

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