Kemper History

Seven Decades of Visionary Thinking

When you look at The Bellevue Collection with all its vibrancy and bustle, its hundreds of shops, the soaring office towers, fine restaurants and luxury hotels, it’s hard to believe that this is and always has been a family enterprise. That in fact it began as a 16-store shopping center that emerged in the post–World War II era when the Eastside of Puget Sound was a sparsely populated region of 25,000 people.




An Informed Vision

The story of The Bellevue Collection is a story about the vision and commitment of the Freeman family. It begins with Kemper Freeman Sr., who developed Bellevue Shopping Square, as it was first known, with the help of a professional planner and a ten-cent booklet of demographic and civic development statistics as a guide. Freeman researched the area between Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish, meticulously evaluating the grocery stores, service stations, and other businesses serving the region. The War Manpower Commission informed Freeman that Bellevue was failing to retain the war workers who had moved in to the area. Lack of recreational activities and services was a contributing factor. 

Then in 1945, Freeman began a nationwide fact-finding tour. Driving to Salt Lake City, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, Tucson, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, he found shopping centers that had been designed with a new generation of automobile-oriented shoppers in mind. Freeman was impressed with J.C. Nichols’s Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, the prototype for America’s large, elaborate suburban centers.

The 10-acre tract of land where the current Bellevue Square sits, fronting on 104th Avenue N.E. just south of N.E. 8th Street, was purchased by Kemper Freeman Sr. from James Ditty, who had originally acquired the land in the late 1920s.

By the end of 1946, Freeman had brought 20 stores to Bellevue Shopping Square. Tenants included Frederick & Nelson, the first shopping center department store built by Marshall Field’s in the U.S. The shopping center’s name evolved into Bellevue Square, and in 1955 JCPenney became its second major department store. By the close of the decade, Bellevue Square had grown to 45 stores. Nordstrom, then a local shoe store, added apparel and became the third major anchor in 1966.

Accelerated Evolution

The 1980s marked a significant reconstruction period for Bellevue Square. Remodeled in four phases, Bellevue Square went from a one-level, open-air shopping center to a multi-level, enclosed super regional center more than one million square feet in size. The major catalyst for phase four of the remodel was the addition of The Bon Marché, a 174,000-square-foot department store.

In the early 1990s, Frederick & Nelson filed bankruptcy and closed its doors for the final time. Responding to a shift in customer needs, Bellevue Square management chose an innovative route to redevelop the three-floor department store space into more than 50 high-volume, destination specialty stores. This pivotal decision brought about the Bellevue Square of today.

Bellevue Place Joins The Collection

In 1986, construction began on Bellevue Place, adding much-needed office, hotel, shopping, and restaurant space to the downtown district. The doors opened to the public in 1989. It was the first true mixed-use project in the Northwest, offering convenience and cutting-edge amenities. The Hyatt Regency Bellevue caters to the needs of out-of-town guests and provides meeting and conference space for the region. It continues to be a hub for Eastside commerce and the arts.

Lincoln Square and the New Century

Lincoln Square is the most recent addition to Kemper Development Company and The Bellevue Collection. This extraordinary destination offers fine dining, shopping, a 16-screen luxury cinema, billiards, and the four-star Westin Bellevue Hotel. Completed in 2005, the multi-use project also features 148 privately owned luxury residences with sweeping views of the Northwest.

The Freeman family remains highly involved with the everyday operations of The Bellevue Collection. The family’s vision continues to guide its growth and lead its status as the epicenter of the booming Eastside and the Pulse of the New Northwest.

Full Circle

To understand the significance of the Full Circle installation, we look back to the history of Bellevue and connect the dots of time.

The Tree
The first connection is the history and importance of the madrona tree and its subsequent replacement, the Atlantic Cedar. The madrona tree was a natural part of the land when Bellevue Square Shopping Center was first built as an outdoor openair center in 1946. As it grew, it came to signify the heart of the community as it graced the front of The Crabapple Restaurant. This was where you went to catch the social buzz and meet friends. The first Arts Fair took place under the branches of the madrona in 1947. Many longtime Eastsiders still hold fond memories of the tree lightings, and children’s parades with the madrona tree in the center of it all. Then in the late 50s the tree grew sickly and in 1961 the tree had to be taken down. hundreds of residents came by to say “goodbye“ and were given pieces of the madrona as a memento of those great times.

The Artist—Dudley Carter (1891—1992)
Our next connection to the Full Circle is the artist that started it all. Dudley Carter, an up and coming wood sculptor from British Columbia inspired many with his Bird Woman sculpture at that first Arts Fair held under the madrona. Kemper Freeman, Sr., was moved by the beauty of this sculptor’s work and commissioned Forest Deity which would become the first piece of public art in Bellevue.
Over the years, Forest Deity became an informal icon for Bellevue showing up on the letterhead of the Chamber of Commerce, on the phonebook cover and throughout many publications. Dudley lived to be 101 years old. He became a renowned and well respected Northwest sculptor and his beautiful works can be seen locally at Bellevue Square and Marymoor Park and worldwide in Oregon, California, Japan and Germany.

Artist—Anna Hanson (Granddaughter of Dudley Carter)
Anna Hanson studied under her grandfather and has since developed her own following as a sought after sculptor. Anna was the natural connection to keeping the spirit of the history alive through art. The carving that inspired the piece was Dudley’s and, again in the spirit of coming full circle, his granddaughter brought his work to life using her own extraordinary talent; even using his woodcarving tools.

The Art—Full Circle
In the early 1960s Kemper Freeman, Sr. planted a new tree , an Atlantic Cedar, to replace the beloved madrona. At the time, it was a major undertaking to plant such a large scale tree. Now moving forward to 2007, the Atlantic Cedar needed to be removed for an expansion project. Wanting to keep the history alive, Kemper Development Company made the connection with Anna Hanson, the granddaughter of Dudley Carter. Anna assessed the tree to see if the wood would be appropriate for a large scale carving that could remain on the property. Anna then oversaw the sectioning of the tree and she then went to work on the design while the wood dried.

The carving wraps around the centerpiece of The Lodge, its stone fireplace. The design concept, waterfowl rising into flight, is carved in four large pieces that hang from pegs in on each side of the fireplace. Carved from a log weighing in at between 5,000 – 6,000 lbs, Hanson spent more than six months carving the piece in her studio in Gibsons, B.C. It was shipped to the site earlier this week.

“My grandfather’s last piece (Bird Reaching for the Morning), featured a bird perched on the top in a forked form. That was the nucleus for Full Circle,” says Hanson. According to Hanson, the wood will take up to eight years to fully dry. More than 1,000 gallons worth of chips where generated as the log was hollowed to remove weight and reduce the checking (cracking) as it dries over time. “The project was the most exciting thing I’ve ever done,” says Hanson. “I’ve done giant whales and other sculptures, but it was fascinating to deal with the natural twists and turns of the tree to create the sculpture. That’s how my grandfather worked, letting the wood shape the carving. I felt that he was working through me to complete this project.” Much of the original character of the tree is still visible in the carving. “I had to think in reverse and let the tree’s natural beauty guide me.”

Full Circle
So the connections in history come full circle from the importance of the tree to the community, the artist and his connection to the tree and the Freeman family and now his granddaughter, Anna to the new generation of the Freeman family and the tree that kept the history alive.

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