Nostalgia resurfaces for Auburn cafe’s root beer and burgers | Whale’s Tales

The late Sauce Shimojima recalled stopping there regularly on his way back from a hot, sweaty, dirty day toiling in the strawberry fields so ubiquitous in the Green River Valley of his boyhood.

Stopping for a mug of sweet refreshment of the most welcome kind — a great big mug of real root beer served up polar frosty.

“She always kept her mugs in the freezer, so they were icy cold,” Shimojima said of the cafe’s owner.

It was the kind of treat that made you glad to be alive.

Today, no trace remains of Gallagher’s Corner, for more than 40 years a fixture at the foot of Cemetery Hill, just across from the end of West Main Street, and north of today’s Yahn and Son Funeral Home.

But it is one of those places that, emblematic of a simpler Auburn that is rapidly fading into the past, lives on in the memory of those of an age to remember it.

For one memorable incident, Jennie S. Gallagher’s little cafe under the orange and brown sign entered into and remains part of the umpteenth-told tales of the Whale family.

It’s the story of the morning when my Uncle Bruce, my mother’s brother, got some sort of a wild hair, and after asking my parents for permission, snatched up my brother, Matt, then only 3 or 4 years old, and not clued into the plot, then whisked him off to Gallagher’s Corner for a treat, still in his skivvies.

My brother has never forgotten the early “trauma” of this public airing of himself in his PJs.

Local writer Marjorie Rommel, in a piece written for the Oct. 2004 edition of the White River Journal, quotes Kenny Bradford, for 43 years an employee in the meat department of Massey’s on D and East Main Streets, reminiscing about the six-foot-long marble counter with the root beer barrel on it, the cold mugs and the burgers, oh the burgers.

“Her hamburgers were soooo good,” Bradford told Rommel.

So good were those burgers, Rommel wrote, “they continued to draw young customers on Friday and Saturday nights into the 50s and early 60s, adolescent boomers, who drove an endless slow loop west on Main to Gallagher’s, then east again, munching and sipping, one hand on the wheel.”

According to the Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Regional Branch, Jennie Gallagher bought the land (then listed as Route 2 Box 450) on Aug. 9, 1919, and opened her establishment in 1923 when West Valley Road, now West Valley Highway, was the main route between Seattle and Tacoma, which it remained into the 1940s.

A photograph taken in 1937 and used in this article courtesy of the Washington State Archives gives the idea of Gallagher’s Corner in its heyday. Interesting historical features can be found on the Atlantic Richfield sign atop the building, and on the far left where the shed out back partially displays a poster of Mable Stark, a famed tiger trainer of the early part of the last century.

May we all have such wonderful places in our memories.

Robert Whale can be reached at

Robert Whale can be reached at

Robert Whale can be reached at